St. Elmo Steak House has been a downtown Indianapolis landmark since 1902, housed at its original location (127 South Illinois Street) for its entire existence. Dinner at St. Elmo makes you feel connected to the history of Indianapolis in a way that few other restaurants can boast. And, of course, the food is always top notch as well. So, when I was recently invited to attend a private party at St. Elmo, I jumped at the chance.
First, the atmosphere. St. Elmo is one of those old-school restaurants with dark wood walls, wrought-iron fixtures, and dim lighting. What else do you want from a classy steak place, right? Our group had reserved the one table located in the restaurant’s wine cellar, so we got to dine surrounded by 20,000 bottles of wine. Apparently this is the room where Peyton Manning eats after home games. Not being a sports fan, this meant nothing to me, but some of the other members of our party seemed enthused about that.
For my pre-meal cocktails, I ordered a pomegranate Martini and a Mojito. What can I say? I was in the mood for girly drinks. The Mojito was a little sour and didn’t contain many muddled mint leaves, but the Martini was quite good. We were served bread around this time, too, and all of it was tasty. There were onion rolls (stuffed with cooked onions) and some cheesy cracker-y things that I couldn’t get enough of.
Of course we all ordered St. Elmo’s famous Shrimp cocktails as our appetizers. You simply can’t come to St. Elmo and not at least try the shrimp cocktail! If you haven’t had one, picture the plumpest, freshest shrimp that you can get in Indiana smothered with house-made cocktail sauce loaded with freshly ground horseradish. The cocktail sauce can take your breath away, if you’re not careful. Best to start with just a little of the sauce and then work your way to a big bite. My sinuses were certainly clear by the time I’d finished my appetizer.
Next comes your choice of navy bean soup or tomato juice. I’m not sure what’s up with the tomato juice, but I guess it’s a St Elmo tradition. Needless to say, I went with the navy bean soup. When I think of navy beans (which isn’t all that often, really), I tend to think they’re bland. This soup was not bland, though. In fact it was delicious.
I skipped ordering a salad so I could go straight for the main event – the surf and turf. At St. Elmo, surf and turf means a lobster tail and 10 oz. filet mignon. I asked for my filet medium-rare and it came out perfect, nice and bloody in the middle. My lobster tail was excellent, too, although anything dipped in clarified butter is going to be good. One member of our party’s steak was a little over-cooked (she had ordered it medium-rare and it came out medium), so the server cheerfully sent it back to the kitchen and got her another one that was cooked to her specifications.
Because we were surrounded by one of the best wine collections in Indiana, we had to sample a bit of the ole vino. How could we resist all those bottles just staring us and whispering, “Drink me”? So, we decided to compare and contrast a few different types of cabernet sauvignon. We first shared a bottle from Quilceda Creek (Washington state), and then tried a pair of wines from Napa, Opus One and Lokoya. All three wines were fantastic, although I think the Opus One was my favorite.
After the excellent meal, I have to admit that the desserts were a bit of a letdown. I wasn’t crazy about either of the ones that I tried – the crème brûlée and the chocolate cake. The crème brûlée tasted good, but the sugar on the top hadn’t been completely caramelized, so I didn’t get to have the fun of cracking the hardened sugar. As for the chocolate cake, it was a little stiff, which made it seem like it had been frozen or something. I’m not saying that it had been frozen, mind you, just that it had that kind of texture. Although I didn’t get to try it, the cheesecake looked good. I wish I’d ordered that.
As for the service, it was uniformly excellent, from the hostess to our dedicated server to the bussers. When I joked with our server that I needed a cocktail umbrella for my pomegranate Martini, she laughed and said she wished they had them. Then she actually made one from a piece of paper, a staple, and a toothpick, and plopped it into my drink. Our entire party appreciated her great sense of humor and attentiveness.
Like all good steak places, St. Elmo is pricy. If you start getting wine, it can be really pricy. Still, for an occasional treat (especially if someone else is paying), it certainly makes a memorable dining experience. The food is delicious – and you simply can’t beat the atmosphere and history of the restaurant. If you can swing it, eating in the wine cellar makes the experience all the more special, too.