Most Triangle-area meat lovers savor a well-turned cut of beef, and your local fine dining steakhouse in Raleigh NC is sure to dish that up thyme after thyme. But skilled chefs at these quality restaurants are daring to introduce steaks much different than beef: bison, kangaroo, ostrich, antelope and venison. And of course, a good slab of salmon, swordfish or shark steak, or even Portobello mushroom, might make a welcome, if less exotic, change for some.
While most of us associate “steak” with one of a variety of cuts of cow—that is, beef—the term “steak” actually references a certain way of cutting meat (often “across the grain” or muscle fibers, or a thick slice).
So if steaks obviously aren’t all beef, how did they become so linked to this type of meat in our minds?
It’s time to pin down the origins of this sought-after menu mainstay.
Early man knew it: meat is good… and roasted meat is better
Tracking the history of steak starts way back, when our ancestors figured out that meat was pretty tasty. It didn’t take long before they discovered—probably through some happy accident—that roasted meat is even better. Seared quickly over a flame or slow turned on a spit, roasted meat transforms into a juicy delight, easier to chew, with aromatic notes that actually trigger our mouths to water.
There might have been little similarity between those early barbecues and the menu you’ll enjoy next time you visit a fine dining steakhouse in Raleigh NC, but the groundwork was laid!
The Scandinavians are credited with the name. Though no one knows why, the Old Norse term for a thick slice of meat (any type of meat) cut for roasting— steik — stuck. And as trade and travel expanded, and merchants and cooks got around, so did the taste for tender steaks cut from the locally prevalent animals.
How steak came to be sought after for fine dining in Raleigh NC
As you may have guessed, steak is a particularly choice section of meat. And the best cuts of meat are always in relatively short supply, making them more expensive. Over time, the privileged, powerful, and well-off were the ones who got these cuts from any animal served.
In late 17th century England, the steak and its close cousin, the chop, became favored mainstays of eating establishments called chophouses or steakhouses. Soon politicians and businessmen introduced them to New York and other cities.
Since cattle were the preferred grazing animal at the time, hearty eating of pricey beef steaks became more engrained as a signal of both affluence and power at urban steakhouses. True these restaurants didn’t have much in common with the fine dining Raleigh NC patrons know and love today, but they were upscale relative to the alternatives!
As late as the early 20th century, the classic steakhouse dining experience, known as A Beefsteak, was actually a meat fest event unlike anything you’d see at a fine dining steakhouse in Raleigh NC (or anywhere else, for that matter) today, with men known to consume over six pounds of beef steaks from neighboring slaughterhouses, and 30 glasses of beer at a sitting. (If they then stepped back to the office to make deals, you have to hope the beer had a lower alcohol content!)
Steaks, and your local fine dining steakhouse in Raleigh NC, have both evolved
By the end of the 2nd world war, the shift away from Beefsteak events was underway. As women entered the business world, earned the vote, and became politically active, steakhouse dining became tamer, and menus expanded beyond the basics to include salads, soups, side dishes, fish, wine and cheesecake.
And today the legacy of that original steakhouse concept carries on in a new form, with the promise of an upscale experience including a high level of personal service, an attractive setting, and a broader range of exceptional steaks than ever. It’s today’s version of a modern dining event—and at the fine dining steakhouse, Raleigh NC diners will find it a delight.