Backstreet Blues Chophouse & Oyster Bar

Backstreet Blues Chophouse & Oyster Bar opened a couple months ago, and serves as the brick and mortar successor to the Backstreet Blues Catering food truck that some of you have already gotten to know. I know many have been waiting for this review and this past weekend, I finally made my way out to the restaurant at 6500 SW Archer Road. Formerly home to Beef O’Brady’s, the space has been completely transformed including a renovated bar and private dining room. Those of us who live on the west side of town are always eager to see new eateries open up in our neck of the woods. But how does Backstreet Blues stack up to our other two steakhouses in town? Well…

As I say so often, let’s start with the good.

Our server, Zachary, was phenomenal. The service our table received was some of the best I’ve ever experienced in Gainesville. Polite, knowledgeable, personable, and attentive…any positive adjective you can use to describe a server applied that evening. Most importantly, he knew how to sell the product, describing the specials and “upselling” the diners. Now you could argue that this could be owed to him recognizing me, but he genuinely had no idea until it was pointed out to him by others towards the end of my meal. If you do decide to visit, I would recommend asking for him and request that he tell you a history joke. I digress…

The Oysters Rockefeller were not exactly plated in the most appealing way, scattered onto a metal tray straight out of the broiler with a ramekin of clarified butter, but was rich, flavorful, and oystery deliciousness. Six Gulf oysters broiled with spinach, garlic, drizzled with Pernod (star anise liqueur), then topped with Parmesan Cheese makes for a pretty good appetizer. Even at $13, it’s less than the original dish costs at Antoine’s in New Orleans. Other appetizers included a superb New England Clam Chowder at $7 for a cup or $10 for a bowl, though it may be a bit too rich and heavy for some. A charcuterie platter, stone crab claws (unavailable when we visited), foie gras in a spiced citrus puree, and cheese plate highlight the other appetizers available.

The wine list is extensive and provides plenty of choices by the glass or bottle to properly pair with your steak or seafood dishes. On this particular night, my guests who are far more knowledgeable with wines, chose a bottle of Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 at $95. As any good upscale restaurant should, we were given proper wine service and our bottle served from a decanter. The only hiccup being we had to ask for a taste of the wine, but Zachary gets a pass here because he wanted to let the wine breathe first.

But…when you’re a restaurant serving steaks hovering around the $40 mark all the way up to $79 for a 40 ounce ribeye and where the cheapest seafood dish is $25 for sautéed mahi, you’re going to open yourself up to a lot more critique on every aspect of the restaurant. So we begin with the moment my party walked through the door. The hostess asked us how many were in our party (3), and immediately told us she couldn’t seat us and we should look for space at the bar. Say what now? When pressed how long the wait would be, she said 15 to 20 minutes. Confused. We informed her we would wait and decided to order cocktails at the bar.

A Cucumber Gimlet, Gin Basil Refresher, and Phil’s Old Fashioned. At $10, $9, and $7 respectively, these weren’t cheap. Before the bartender could make us our drinks, the table was ready. So we left a man behind to close out the tab, and migrated over. The Gimlet and the Gin Basil Refresher were overly sweet, and Sprite really has no place in a $10 cocktail. I don’t know who Phil is, but his Old Fashioned (pictured) was like someone watched a YouTube video on how to make one and then threw it together using what they had. A cup piled full of ice with a frickin’ maraschino cherry and no citrus twist is not an Old Fashioned. No Bueno. A disappointing product from a bar where a lot of money obviously went into renovating and stocking.

Of course, there’s the food. While the above mentioned Oysters Rockefeller was solid, the wine selection was good, and the clam chowder was good as well…there’s a serious problem here: The Steaks. At $37 for an 8 ounce filet, $39 for an 18 ounce ribeye, and so forth…their price point is actually on par with Embers and Mark’s. But they lack the wood fire grill present in both restaurants that make their steaks all the more flavorful. For me, the solution is simple…at this price point and to set themselves apart, they need to serve dry-aged steaks. Period. None of this “wet-aged” nonsense. For those unfamiliar, the idea of dry-aging a steak is to let the enzymes in the meat break down in a temperature and moisture controlled environment for weeks. The enzymes doing their job along with a loss of moisture results in tender meat that’s much more concentrated in flavors. The process involves vacuum sealing the meat and letting the enzymes break it down without loss of moisture. But without the loss of moisture, the flavor concentration doesn’t happen, and thus is not nearly as flavorful. By this definition, almost all meat you buy at a market or through services like Omaha Steaks has been “wet-aged.”

Case in point was the 14 ounce Wagyu steak special I ordered after it was described so eloquently by Zachary. I figured if I’m going to review a chophouse, why not let them put their best foot forward? American Wagyu is a cross between Japanese Wagyu beef and American Angus, and is supposed to be some of the most tender and marbled beef you can get within the US. While my steak was cooked to the right temperature (medium rare), it wasn’t nearly as tender or flavorful as I would have expected. It was also poorly trimmed with gristle that I had to cut away. While it’s not something I would normally pick on for a $15-$20 steak, it is downright unacceptable for a $68 steak. My side of mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon bits was pedestrian, and my friend’s side of fries were undercooked crinkle-cut fries out of a bag. The problems don’t end there, the Sautéed Mahi with Tomatoes and Capers ($25) was a bit rubbery and overcooked, but I thought the side of asparagus was well-seasoned and done just right.

Of course there are some cheaper options on the menu in the form of Lemon Pesto Pasta for $16, a 10 ounce Ribeye Cheeseburger for $14, and a Prime Rib Sandwich for $14. There’s also what may be their best asset by far; the raw oyster bar, where prices range from $11 to $15 for half a dozen and $19 to $30 for a dozen depending on where the oysters come from. Tuesdays may even be home to one of the best dinner specials in town, where oysters are half off at the bar between 5 PM and 10 PM.

But as with so many places that have opened over the years, there’s a bit of an identity issue here. The rustic farmhouse décor filled with findings from TJ Maxx and Kirkland’s doesn’t exactly fit the classy traditional steakhouse vibe they’re shooting for with the white shirt and tie wait-staff attire. The abysmal Old Fashioned and overly sweet drinks don’t really stand up to their wine selection and wine service. The oyster bar is great, but the steaks are average at best. The wait staff is wonderful but the kitchen doesn’t seem to give things the same attention and care. The products simply doesn’t justify the price tags.

So which one is it? To charge what they charge, everything from décor and plating to quality of sides and execution are under the microscope. Either they take down the Kirkland canvas prints and cheesy diagrams of meat, start dry-aging their steaks, and overhaul the bar…or they lower the prices of everything by $10 and embrace the casual steakhouse and seafood restaurant that they are. In its current form, they’re frankly serving Bonefish Grill food at Bern’s Steakhouse prices.

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© 2020 by Ken Peng & Ken Eats, LLC. Title image courtesy of Jesse Adrian Scanlon Media.

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