Words by Alyssa Stevenson, Images by Will Milne
It's been a long week, a frustrating day, and it is too late to start thinking about making dinner at home. We're starving, but the age old question of where to grab a bite and a drink is starting to rear its ugly head. Not sure about y'all, but we will actually get into arguments about this. We know that we live in the land of plenty when it comes to options for this sort of thing, but that doesn't make the decision any easier. Sometimes you just want a quiet and reliable spot and the decision gets a little easier. In a rather unexpected development for us, the bar at Queenie's has become a great escape. Read on to see why you'll find us shimmying up to the bar in our neighborhood steakhouse on the regular.
There was a time not so long ago when the spot on Austin Street and Hickory was our go to for a green chili cheese dog and a jalapeño margarita, but the times (and parking spots) have changed. After Tim Love re-opened the Love Shack as a fine-dining ode to his mom, it seemed as if everyone in town had something to say about the restaurant. Menu items like a chicken fried lobster and a colossal hunk of beef rolled out on a cart and carved table side made the place feel more like a joke than fine dining initially. We initially thought Love had made a mistake in not putting something more along the lines of his Ft. Worth restaurant, Woodshed, in this top-tier space. After the dust from the restaurant shuffling settled, though, it feels as if the kitchen at Queenie's has started to become more of a refuge than a star-chef attraction and that's a good thing.
Chef de cuisine Tony Neglia is at the helm of the beef ship nowadays and Philip Hunsberger can be found behind the bar. Both of these men have turned Queenie's into a spot we enjoy cozying up to. The lights are dim, the live jazz bands they bring in are always playing the perfect song in a manner that somehow is always the perfect volume, and the drinks look beautiful against the marble bar top. Hunsberger has wide knowledge of classic cocktails and the desire to make sure your drink is exactly the way you want it every time. Don't like your old fashioned's sweet? He's got you covered. Like your martini lightly dirty, but not briney? No problem. In the mood for something not on the menu, but just can't quite put your finger on just what that may be? Tell him what you like and let him work his magic. You'll likely find your new favorite concoction is an off menu item perfectly crafted for you, but remembered and repeatable the next time you pop in. Need something to munch on while you sip on something strong and peruse the menu? The bar snacks are all made in house, and are worthy of mentioning.
We start this trip with an order of the grilled oysters, something we've had here many times and have always been pleased with. The oysters come out on a bed of salt crystals, hot and topped with parmesan, garlic and a slice of serrano pepper. The heat from the serrano is just the right amount of spicy, not overwhelming, but perfectly complimentary of the saltiness of the parmesan and the sweetness of the oyster. We keep up the seafood theme and follow up the oysters with the red chile marinated shrimp and some of the hamachi. The former are beautifully dressed on a white plate, carefully balanced on their sides. The shrimp are bright and citrusy with a salacious cilantro orange butter sauce and a surprisingly wonderful smoked pickled pineapple.
One of our favorite dishes comes out, the quail legs three ways. While this is a semi-off menu item, it is also one of our staples. The quail legs, while tiny, are always perfectly moist and full of flavor. The "three ways" in the title is a nod to their preparation. On the menu you'll find chicken fried quail legs served with chile buttermilk. While these are great, when you ask for them "three ways" you'll not only have a few fried to a golden crisp, but a few tossed in a dry rub and grilled until tender and juicy, and a couple are doused in their buffalo sauce.
Speaking of buffalo sauce, the wing-topper also comes into play with Queenie's buffalo cauliflower. The side is topped with generous chunks of creamy blue cheese. While this is intended as a side, we love sharing this alongside a few other small or shared plates. This is a dish that celebrates the cauliflower as an actual vegetable, instead of a forcing it into a bath of cream and cheese and hiding it under a mountain of breadcrumbs. The cauliflower is dressed in the spicy buffalo sauce and the crisp exterior leads into the soft meat of the cauliflower. Another side dish we enjoy in this manner are the crispy brussels sprouts in a fish sauce vinaigrette. The sprouts are tossed in the sauce that is the definition of umami and roasted until crisp and tender.
Wanting something a little meatier? This is a steakhouse, after all. The baby lamb chops scottadito truly live up to their name. Scottadito translates to 'burned fingers,' which is completely relevant because these beauties are so scrumptious. If you burn your fingers just a little when you're picking them up and biting into the peppery crust, you won't mind. Perfect with the lamb chops, is the kale sweet potato soup. Served with an impressive "kale chip" this hearty soup is a beautiful purée of sweet potato and vegetable stock with a depth of flavor and a resounding spice.
As if that isn't enough to fill you up, there is always steak to be had, or even a fish special to enjoy. Queenie's has plenty of meat options for you to choose from. If you aren't sure what you're looking for, the wait staff is well-versed in beef and can help guide you to a decision that will leave both you and your stomach happy. Recently, the steaks we have tried have all had a peppercorn crust that we could probably do without. The meat, itself, doesn't need the additional crunch and the peppercorn flavor can be kind of overwhelming. Keep in mind that you are in a high-class steak house when dining at Queenie's and ordering meat. This is not the time to order your meat well done. Heck, we've even had "blue rare" suggested to us as a temperature choice. It was a suggestion we took and didn't regret. The steaks, while flavorful and in need of no additional accompaniment, are also served with your choice of one of three sauces. The red pepper hollandaise is the most indulgent of the three and enhances something that didn't even need it - like putting ice cream on a brownie.
Oh, and then there's dessert. We always enjoy the seasonal cobbler, and have totally dug the "donut holes" which we equate a little more with an Italian zeppole. Queenie's is even taking their doughnut game a little farther these days, and have begun selling a variety of them late into the night out of their back door on Friday and Saturday evenings (from 11pm - 1am). We're planning on stopping by the next time we're headed home after a show at Dan's.