By Carol Deptolla of the Journal Sentinel
Green Bay – Dining at Republic Chophouse, it ‘s easy to see – and taste – why America‘s meat lovers adore steakhouses.
Sit with the Irish New Yorker ($35) before you. Cut into the thick strip steak, slicing past the seasoned sear and into the juicy meat, and see that it ‘s cooked perfectly, medium rare. Chew it and feel the tenderness while the flavor rolls over your tongue.
The steak‘s been marinated in Guinness stout, whiskey, sesame oil, garlic and oregano, but more than anything, it tastes profound ly like steak, very good steak. A shot of Jameson Irish whiskey is served alongside; dip a bite of meat into it if you can bear to adulterate either. Myself, I liked what it did to the steak.
Republic Chophouse does many things well, though it does stumble here and there. But most important, it gets steaks and chops delightfully right. And if it ‘s advisable to make no little plans, this restaurant ‘s catch phrase might be: “Serve no little dinners.”
Owners Patrick Neph and Jeff Lang opened the downtown Green Bay restaurant, their first, in mid–September, in buildings formerly occupied by a jeweler and a bank. The space would be unrecognizable to its former tenants now: chic, with modern, spare lines but luxurious touches, and plenty of attractive clients dressed in everything from stylish jeans to suits. Original stained glass on the fa~ade was uncovered during renovation, and it ‘s backlit to show it off to full advantage at night.
One dining room, paneled in wood and copper, seats guests at tables and chairs; another seats them in booths. The restaurant has two private dining rooms, one with screened glass walls. On one side of the restaurant is the lounge; its happy sounds tend to drift to the dining rooms on busy nights. Two mini sitting rooms for four are outfitted with a leather settee, woven chairs and a table for cocktails.
High–top tables in the lounge on busy nights also accommodate diners who fail to make reservations. They can order off the full menu, but the lounge has its own menu with burgers and sandwiches. It ‘s hard to resist those steaks, though: simply grilled or more intricately composed by the chef; boneless, bone–in; rib–eye, tender loin. It mattered not; every steak I tried was well –prepared and full –flavored. Diners can order one of several different seasonings and sauces for their steaks, but the meat certainly doesn‘t need them.
Chops, too, can be ordered simply grilled, but some of chef Abbey Steffen ‘s preparat ions were tempting – and they delivered.
The perfume of Moroccan lamb rib chops ($38) rose from the plate, smelling beguilingly of spices, with the moist and rosy chops tasting only delicately of lamb. The bones of the three double chops inter locked like a circular honor guard on the plate.
A 14–ounce stuffed veal Marsala chop ($45) – with the meat from Provimi, of nearby Seymour – gained extra flavor from a filling of mushroom duxelles and the creamy mushroom Marsala sauce with it.
Fish also was well –prepared. A mild barramundi ($25) was moist and cooked just long enough, but the saltiness of the artichoke–caper tapenade topping overwhelmed it.
Salt was used too liberally elsewhere, as well – in a French onion soup ($5) and particularly a side of sauteed spinach ($6) that sent me rushing to the water glass.
Side dishes are a la carte, and each will serve at least two people, unless perhaps one of them plays for the Packers. The simple steaks and chops apparently are the only dishes to come with a side – addictive crisp matchstick fries. I t was too bad the server didn‘t warn us against ordering the redundant steak fries ($5) with them.
Servers welcome diners with a basket of warm breads – whole grain, ciabatta and pretzel – accompanied by plain and flavored butters.
Appetizers largely are classics, like shrimp cocktail, although crab cakes ($12) were updated with an avocado aioli and sweet chili sauce. Three scallops ($11) were wrapped in bacon and brushed with maple, juxtaposing smoky with sweet. Shareable tuna and avocado tartare ($15) stacked the raw ahi tuna on crisp, oversize won tons with cilantro –lime creme fraiche and spicy vinaigrette. I t was a perfect blend of textures – creamy, tender and crisp – and balanced flavors – citric, mild and spicy.
Entrees are served with soup – tomato –basil bisque or loaded potato, with cheese, sour cream and bacon – or a fresh, if typical, salad. Making the wine list are about 40 white and sparkling wines and nearly 70 reds, including plenty of big Cabernets to stand up to that red meat. The list carries a number of “splurge” bottles, but the majority are under $50.
Most of the desserts are prepared at the restaurant, one server told us, including an impressive, moist, four layer red velvet cake with a quite –sweet frosting ($9). Intense ly flavored chocolate truffle torte ($6) needed only more time out of the fridge to make it easier to pierce.
Amiable servers got all the big things right, and everyone I encountered was eager to please. Perhaps overly eager at times – one staffer asked whether we were finished with our plates while we were still chewing, with forks poised. And offers to refill coffee were hard to come by. But the staff acted as a team, which I’m always glad to see; when my water glass sat empty, the waiter from a neighboring table filled it.
Service became smoother over the course of my visits, and manager Mark Hemminger frequently passed through the dining rooms to gauge the happiness of guests. Good service clearly is a priority here.
Republic Chophouse is new and has a few kinks to work out, but diners can depend on getting very good steaks and chops here – precisely what meat lovers want and need.