Strip is in serious need of a new coat of paint. That’s the first thing I notice as I walk up to the steakhouse in Olde Avon Village.
The exterior of the seemingly dilapidated 1851 German Dutch-style barn is more gray than red. Too big to be quaint, Strip looks as if it’s been dropped in the middle of a retail district that begs to be described this way. In short, it feels out of place.
But walk through the doors and you’ll feel a wave of guilt for judging Strip too quickly. It’s exterior can’t come close to matching what’s inside. Frosted, multi-colored glass doors open into a cozy environment — not an easy feat to accomplish in a dining room with high ceilings. A few steps in and you notice the wide-open kitchen, bar and lounge as well as the stairs to a second-level dining room.
Owner and chef Ron Larson isn’t new to restoring the splendor of historic buildings. For 15 years he’s been running the show at Olde Avon Village, where he operates a popular lunch spot, Tree House Gallery and Tea Room, and shares the complex with fellow barn-turned-restaurant Henry’s at the Barn.
But unlike his Low Country neighbor, Larson says the kitchen of his barn is focused on the Midwestern, meat-loving palate. It’s a decision that has served him well, packing in evening diners, 80 percent of whom order beefsteaks for their entree, he says.
Wanting to differentiate himself from other upscale steakhouses in the region, Larson knew he had to do a few things differently. That means serving nontraditional steakhouse appetizers such as tater tots stuffed with blue cheese and pancetta ($6); mofongo, a deep-fried plantain filled with ground sirloin, stewed vegetables and crackling ($10); or a trio of scallops with shrimp sauce and lavender oil ($12).
I jumped on the fried egg pizza ($8) appetizer. Eggs are big right now; everyone seems to be eating them in one form or the other. The flatbread’s hearty and salty flavors were balanced extremely well given the variety of toppings — a runny egg classically pairing with crisp and salty pancetta plus cheddar cheese melted atop potatoes Anna forming an Americanized raclette.
Though the pizza was good, it didn’t match the short stack ($14), sweet crab sandwiched between slightly sweet mini pancakes. It’s a don’t-miss dish for crab-lovers as there wasn’t a single bite devoid of the rich meat.
Even most of the salads here come with a meaty bite. There is a great spinach salad ($8) with sugar walnuts, loads of bacon and a warm vinaigrette. While it’s nothing fancy, the proper mix of dressing made the greens special. Another salad with house-smoked sausage, crisp sticks of green apple, roasted tomatoes and Romano cheese ($8) wasn’t as successful. The sausage was fine, but it seems a little out of place.
For Strip diners who prefer a beefless entree, there’s a pork porterhouse called Le Snoot ($24), a lamb rack named Mary ($26), and a Wicked veal chop ($26). Surprisingly, the most frequently ordered nonbeef dish is the unorthodox peanut butter and jelly chicken breast coated in peanut butter Cap’n Crunch cereal ($20).
Larson can get as creative as he wants elsewhere, but when it comes to steaks, I say keep it simple, keep it high-grade, and above all, there better be a rib-eye. They tend to have the best marbling and, consequently, the best flavor. There are cuts that might match it, such as the old pin bone, but butchers just don’t cut them these days.
Although a bit undercooked, we enjoyed the Cowboy, a 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye ($38). The Big Daddy, a 24-ounce porterhouse ($39), was huge and delicious. The rub of fresh lemon juice, garlic and sea salt kicked up the flavor and stuck with it even when leftovers were reheated the next day.
There are a lot of nice touches when it comes to the steaks at Strip. For one, there are a dozen house-made compound butters and sauces (one choice per steak) that range from Bearnaise to orange bourbon to mojito butter rum to apple honey bacon.
And while the steaks come a la carte, the 10 different made-for-two sides such as risotto of the day ($7), lobster pasta ($8), au gratin potatoes ($7) and gruyere mac and cheese ($8) make it so you could visit dozens of times and never eat the same combination of steak, sauces and sides twice.
Strip puts a twist on the traditional steakhouse experience, and that mix of quality and quirk is what makes it stand out in an already crowded field.