THE TULIP (1606 Queen East, 469-5797) Not a traditional steakhouse, this noisy family spot offers straightforward steak dinners for less than half the price at downtown joints. Recently moved two doors west, its monstrous artery-clogging all-day-breakfasts remain unchanged. Expect lineups. Complete meals for $30 per person ($8 at breakfast), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Monday to Saturday 7 am to midnight, Sunday and holidays 7 am to 8 pm. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN for many, it's second only to sex -- the desire for red meat.When that base craving hits, they head for the corner of Coxwell and Queen, where the Tulip has been wrangling basic meat and potatoes since the early 50s. Back then, pony-playing Damon Runyonesque characters flush from a win at nearby Greenwood rubbed shoulders with slumming Rosedale swells at this famous not-so-greasy spoon. All were here for the same thing -- some of the best steaks in town.
Today, the racetrack has been bulldozed to make way for monster homes and a multiplex, and the lineup clamouring for one of the Tulip's 30 seats is a thing of the past. Shuttered, 1610 Queen East belongs to memory. But there's no reason to eat your heart out. Since last spring, the Tulip lives on in digs more than twice the size two doors west. Otherwise, nothing's changed.
The area's still decades away from gentrification. And couples like the one at the next table hunkering down over humongous platters of peameal bacon, a pair of sunny-side-ups, home fries and toast ($4.75) continue to wear matching Snap-On Tools ski jackets with absolutely no sense of irony. Although the lineups remain, now there's room inside to queue, and because there's twice as much seating as before, the turnover's quite quick.
The Tulip may deliver first-rate beef, but it will never be mistaken for a steakhouse. For starters, there's none of that old-boys ambience of places like Harbour 60 or Hy's, and you won't find a herd of fibreglass cattle grazing out front on Astroturf like you will at Le Bifteque. Coats get hung on hooks, seen-it-all servers call everyone hon, and if mood-setting music's being played, it can't be heard above the cacophonous clatter of cutlery, conversation and kids.
After a week of mock meat, the Literary Device and I are ready to sink our teeth into the real thing. I go with a 20-ounce T-bone ($20.50), a massive slab of cow about three-quarters of an inch thick and a foot in diameter. Beside it, a hefty portion of home fries -- or, more accurately, slices of boiled potato that have been greaselessly grilled -- accompany pale tomato and raw onion cross-sections. Asking for horseradish, I get the bottled stuff. Hey, it goes with the bottles of ketchup and HP on every table.
The Device contemplates a 10-ounce New York sirloin ($18.25) before deciding on steak and eggs ($9.95) from the all-day-breakfast menu. She asks, what kind of steak? Sirloin. And how large? Ten ounces. So, for $8.30 less than the steak by itself (which does also include potatoes and pre-buttered 50s-style French stick) she gets two over-easy eggs, home fries, toast and coffee plus a refill thrown in. Go figure.
My T-bone arrives just as I've ordered it -- medium rare -- and grilled in butter and cracked peppercorns. When the Device specifies she'd like her eggs over easy, she's asked if that means runny, in-between or dry, something I've never heard asked before. But halfway through her steak, when our busy server returns to ask how everything is, the Device mentions that her steak is a little more medium than she'd requested. Would she like another? Sure.
Giving her a that's-pushing-it-a-bit look -- I can't see anything wrong with the first one -- even I'm impressed with the second, a perfectly grilled pink-centred specimen. While I can't finish my 20-ouncer, the Device has polished off half of her first and all of the second before she doggy-bags my leftovers.
Two days later, we're back on the meatin' path. The Device zeroes in on the pork chops ($10.95), a pair of superb retro cuts grilled in butter and peppercorns and sided with two ice-cream scoops of mom-style mashed potatoes -- no roasted garlic or wasabi here, or baked potatoes, fries or frites, for that matter -- and a heap of crunchy coleslaw free of sugar and mayonnaise. For an extra 75 cents, a fried egg is plopped on top of the chops.
My veal parmigiana ($9.45) induces flashbacks to the 60s. Pounded paper-thin and coated in breadcrumbs, this main comes layered with ersatz mozzarella and straight-from-the-can, spice-free (unless you count parsley as a spice) tomato sauce.
To finish, we share banana cream pie ($2.75), an accurate recreation of the Kresge's cafeteria classic, complete with artificial aerosol-whipped topping.
The new, improved Tulip can't compete with USDA-prime-purveying joints like Ruth's Chris or Morton's. It doesn't have to. Offering triple-A Canadian beef at half the price of its competitors, the Tulip caters to blue-collar carnivores instead of stuffed shirts. email@example.com
A sirloin dinner goes for 40 bucks and up in downtown steakhouses because they serve top-of-the-line USDA prime beef. The plastic-wrapped meat sold in supermarkets is rarely of this quality. You can find primo Canadian AAA sirloin at Grace Meat Market (644 College, 534-7776) for $5.99/pound and AAA Black Angus sirloin at Cumbrae (481 Church, 923-5600). Diehard carnivores can satisfy red-meat cravings at Olliffe (1097 Yonge, 928-0296), where USDA prime sirloin steaks go for 30 bucks a pound. Here's a recipe for pan-fried steak with chipotle butter devised by Food Network chef Bobby Flay of New York City's Mesa Grill and adapted from The Steaklover's Companion (HarperCollins). Roughly blend in a food processor 8 tablespoons of soft butter, a canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce, a garlic clove, 2 tablespoons of red onions, and salt 'n' pepper to taste. On wax paper, form this mixture into a cylinder, roll up and refrigerate for at least an hour. It'll keep for three days in the fridge or indefinitely in the freezer. Season two 10-ounce sirloin steaks with ground cumin, salt and pepper. Coat the bottom of a cast-iron skillet with olive oil and heat on high until the oil smokes. Sear the steaks on each side for four minutes, then another minute on each side till medium rare. Serve with a half-inch slice of chipotle butter on each steak.