Monday, September 22, 2008

Restaurant Review: Rubes Steakhouse of Montour, Iowa

A quick glance down a menu can sometimes tell you more than the most experienced restaurant critic. What are the main courses? Is the menu in French? Italian? Are prices included? What about pictures? What are the prices? After the initial once-over and appraisal, one can then peruse for what they actually want to eat.

Rubes steakhouse in Montour, Iowa does away with the menu entirely. In favor of the utilitarian and practical butcher counter. Your waitress starts the evening by welcoming you to the “original grill your own steak restaurant” (founded in 1973), and half-heartedly urges you to enjoy the salad bar. One immediately gets the impression that vegetables are strictly second class citizens; mere accompaniments to the meat.

Rube’s “menu”is a quick but obviously practiced and well-informed briefing regarding the steaks behind the glass, on the aforementioned butchers counter. After a quick deliberation about which piece of Iowa raised beef, butchered and aged across the street, your decision is then deposited unceremoniously on a white porcelain plate. If you so choose, you can also get a mini cast iron skillet full of raw vegetables. Our waitress noted the best way to cook them was to “just throw in a couple of ladle-fulls of butter and leave it alone”. The butter, needless to say, sits in a metal vat on the side of the grill, with ladles for the sides and brushes for the texas toast that you can also grill up.

The steak, once you cook it on one of the 2 communal grills to your preferred level of doneness, is delicious. Rube’s has perfected a simple formula of good beef and casual atmosphere to create a sublimely enjoyable steak experience. Everything, from the smell of barbequing steaks as you walk in, to the butcher counter steak briefing to the first bite of a juicy New York strip steak declares that Rubes is a restaurant for meat lovers to kick back and enjoy their favorite.

My steak experience there was excellent. I had a delectable 12 ounce New York strip steak. After a few minutes on the grill, it was perfect; tender, flavorful, and not too fatty, although with plenty of marbling. My vegetable side of green peppers and onions was good, although it takes much longer to cook than the steak- I wish my waitress had cautioned me about it. My only gripe about Rube’s concerns the indoor grills. On their website, they proudly proclaim they can support 520 (!) people at full capacity. Maybe- however, with maybe 50 the grills were strained to capacity, and uncomfortably packed with Iowans trying to tend their beef. However, once can really just throw ones meat on and forget it, which is what I did- it still was one of the best steaks I have ever had.

Rube’s is a perfect metaphor for small town Iowa. The surrounding community of Montour is little more than a wide spot in the road. AS you drive through the two blocks of “downtown”, your only hint to the steakhouses presence is a small, unadorned building with the word “Rube’s”. Simple, honest and unpretentious, it is restaurant-ian representation of the farmers that work on the cornfields surrounding the town.

Since its inception 37 years ago in 1973, Rubes has grown. The small meat butcher that supplied them with steaks originally has been acquired by the restaurant, and now ships its premium-aged steaks anywhere in the US. The founder, Glen “Rube” Rubenbauer retired in 1993; however, the steak remains of the same high quality.

What should you expect from Rube’s? Look at the menu. A casual, honest DIY steak experience with the best elements of small town Iowa.

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