Redfire Grill and Steakhouse
400 Lantana Drive
New York strip steak, rib-eye, chopped salad,
New Zealand rack of lamb
Let your brain, just for one second, forget the fact that you are a diner of exquisite taste and progressive bent. Ye of the eight-course tasting dinners, of teriyaki tempeh with white tomato foam, of hamachi crudo with truffle essence.
Forget all that. Indulge your little secret: Some nights you just want some meat and potatoes. That most classic of American meals may not ring as hip as it did in the Supper Club days, but it never goes away.
Enter Redfire Grill and Steakhouse, the restaurant rebooted from Carl Georigi’s cozy Hockessin hangout, Dome Restaurant and Bar.
Dome, popular through its final days in 2009, was not in dire need of rebooting. Georigi simply had long harbored the idea of a steakhouse, at one point coming close to opening one at the Wilmington Riverfront. But with Dome due for some renovation, Georigi saw a perfect opportunity to unleash his new concept.
How remarkably appropriate that Georigi would go for a brawny steakhouse. The man behind Eclipse Bistro and Capers and Lemons preaches excellent ingredients treated with care and prepared simply. What better vehicle for doing so than the classic chophouse?
And Redfire does feel classic. It hits as soon as you walk in and face the massive walls of dark wood panels. When it comes to following the Rules of the Chophouse, Redfire Grill is the teacher’s pet.
Dim lighting, breadbaskets, wall mirrors: check. Requisite old-school side dishes like creamed spinach and wedge salads: check. Cheesecake and Manhattans: check. A grouping of five signature steaks with the well-done-not-recommended disclaimer: check plus.
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Redfire’s kitchen prepares its steaks in a heavy-duty chophouse broiler that reaches 1,200-degrees. (Your home broiler peaks at 575 degrees. Ditto your backyard grill, 425 if it’s a George Foreman). So don’t expect to see any steaks with aesthetically pleasing crosshatch grill marks and sprigs of parsley, like the ones in the American Meat Institute ads. Order a 6-ounce filet and you shall receive a seemingly ill-tempered hockey puck that appears to have spent too much time at Hollywood Tans.
But that’s the point, and to paraphrase Mistress Martha, it’s a very good thing. That charred crust is exactly what you’re after. When done correctly—as it was consistently during my visits to Redfire—the crisp, salty outer layer of beef turns the brain toward thoughts of drawing on cave walls and smashing rocks into rudimentary tools. Think of this crust as beef’s answer to bacon.
As such, these steak are best served naked. They beg no crumbled cheese, herb crust or sauce, though a few sauces, like brandy peppercorn and Cabernet demi-glace, are available for an added price.
None for me, thanks. I plunged my fork into a mound of gloriously old-fashioned creamed spinach. The velvety, perfectly salty sloppiness is to steak what whipped cream is to a sundae. The spinach may be even better than a baked potato. Other a la carte side dishes, such as onion rings, horseradish mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus, are done well, and they realize their humble station: to honor, adore and complement the beef.
And the beef is worthy of praise, especially at these prices. Redfire sources USDA Prime (the highest grade awarded) Black Angus beef, yet only a solid pound of Porterhouse squeaks over the $25 mark. (Redfire’s steaks aren’t aged, which keeps the price under control.)
The 6-ounce filet was like a crème brûlée. The charred crust and tender, marbled meat performed in tandem to ignite textural pyrotechnics, the kind that cause steak lovers to shut their eyes and quiet their other senses to better concentrate on taste. I liked the 12-ounce New York strip twice as much because it was twice as big. The larger cut sacrificed none of the juiciness of the tenderloin.
From that point on, I couldn’t turn away from Redfire’s red meat. A rack of New Zealand lamb was as tender as one can hope, and an herbed panko-Dijon crust sealed in the intense, sweet flavor instead of clouding it.
Redfire’s house burger is a brisk seller. It probably won’t do McDonald’s numbers, but the kitchen takes a page out of Ronald’s book with a tangy house-made secret sauce of Thousand Island dressing. That is not to compare Redfire’s brute to fast food. Sharp aged cheddar and delectable maple-pepper bacon make sure of that. I had but one beef: the toasted bun was burnt.
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On a lunch service, the kitchen showcased its knack for harmonizing beef with other simple flavors and textures. Bleu cheese oozed over thin slices of steak in both a salad and an open-faced sandwich. Of the two, I preferred the salad of barely wilted arugula with pickled red onion and baguette croutons. The combination sang in four-part harmony. I enjoyed the sandwich, too, especially the crispy strands of fried onions, but it was a bit trickier to eat.
But for all of Redfire’s Zen-like simplicity, I wished the kitchen had gone a shade further with some dishes. Fried calamari, though crispy and easy to pop one after the other, were drizzled in a Thai-inspired lemon-chili sauce that was several notches too sweet. The meat on a bone-in beef short rib, braised slowly, surrendered to the lightest touch, but its whiskey barbecue sauce lacked oomph, and my piece contained an undesirable ratio of meat to gristle.
Chef Eric Huntley clearly has bought into Georigi’s plan. The chef had a stint at Hockessin’s Back Burner years ago. He has spent the past four years at Mickey Donatello’s Corner Bistro and Lucky’s Coffee Shop.
Like the menu, Redfire’s wine list is heavy on value, with plenty of bottles of red muscular enough to stand up to beef. Perhaps appropriately, the most expensive bottle is a Pinot Noir from Bouchaine Vineyards, the Napa Valley winery owned by prominent Delaware philanthropists Gerret and Tatiana Copeland.
There’s a small but exciting beer selection that includes equally headstrong drafts such as Red Seal Copper Ale and Brooklyn Brown Ale (which goes down like chocolate milk) that get served in frozen frosty mugs.
Georigi’s restaurants, and more specifically, their front-of-house managers, excel in hospitality. Hostesses, servers, roving managers—it’s easy to fall under their spell. Wine recommendations were spot on. During the restaurant’s first week of service, managers made a point of introducing themselves to customers and thanking them. First impressions, after all.
Unfortunately, service lagged on one busier night. Finished plates languished on the table. Drinks were long to arrive, and when they did, they weren’t the drinks we’d ordered. We asked to please omit a side of garlicky green beans, but they appeared anyway, invading the plate of short rib with their pungent jus.
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Maybe it’s all the red meat in the air, or the rich ruby tones of the walls, which so perfectly mimic rare rib-eye, but Redfire drips masculinity. I could still smell the wood stain on the dark wall panels of the entrance—which ranks highly on a dude’s scent dial, like new-car smell and the lumber section of the hardware store. There was one notable exception: The music is surprisingly hip and fresh. In such a setting, I expected to hear Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” ad nauseam. Instead I got Vampire Weekend, Feist and Camera Obscura. That’s not a complaint.
Or maybe I’m seeing things through man-colored glasses. Lisa Georigi, Carl’s wife and business partner, tackles the restaurants’ interiors and decorating. She wanted to inject Redfire with a “traditional masculine feel with a feminine sexiness to it,” Carl says.
There’s definitely something sexy in the honey that drips glacially from the delicate, orange-spiked cheesecake. And the hypnotic red glow emanating from the backlit bar calls to mind a famous district in Amsterdam.
No matter the gender, one thing is clear: Redfire is hot.