IF YOU GO
Where: J. Alexander's, 2215 Hamilton Place Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Price range: $4 (Pico De Gallo Salsa and Chips)- $27 (New York Strip steak).
Since man has cooked beef since prehistoric times, it would be easy to assume that by now we would have perfected the science of offering a nice steak at an affordable price. Unfortunately, every time I go out, I find myself torn between having to spend gobs of money for the best or being woefully disappointed with inferior cuts. I haven't found much in between.
Located in the Hamilton Place mall area, J. Alexander's is closer to high-dollar dining, so walking in on a busy Saturday afternoon for lunch I was expecting two things: a significant bill and a good steak.
J. Alexander's hosts a large menu, with lots of options for every diner. I was surprised to find only four options as appetizers. I'd prefer to order an appetizer over dessert, but of the four, none looked too amazing, so my wife and I opted for dessert later.
Patrons can find everything on the menu from homemade Pico De Gallo Salsa and Chips as an appetizer ($4) to the New York Strip steak ($27). It also offers the Old Fashioned Cheeseburger ($9), Prime Rib Sandwich ($15), Emerald Coast Shrimp ($15), Asian Ahi Tuna Salad ($16), Grilled Pork Tenderloin ($18), Panéed Pecan Trout ($19), Steak Maui ($22) and the Filet Mignon with Béarnaise ($26).
Still trying to find a great steak without completely breaking the bank, I went for the Steak and Fries ($20). I was a little disappointed that, with the entree, the house's Alex's Salad wasn't included in my meal. I opted for the $5 upcharge with an entrée. The salad is normally $8 by itself. My wife ordered the Carolina Crab Cakes ($25).
The Alex's Salad is a hefty portion of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bacon, cheese and croutons. To my surprise, I was given only one fork for my meal. So I had to use the same fork for the salad and my entrée. It's the little things at restaurants that trip me up.
When our entrées arrived, my wife's Carolina Crab Cakes were delightful: large portions of crab meat, cooked in a crisp patty. The heirloom carrots on the side were a sweet and flavorful dish.
The Steak and Fries was a little underwhelming for me. My steak was overdone, well past medium, which made it dry. It was served with maître d' butter with garlic. This definitely made the steak more enjoyable, but it still wasn't a winner. The shoestring fries were commonly prepared, without any distinctive taste.
Perhaps so few appetizer options were a good thing, after all, because the Very Best Chocolate Cake ($7), was, possibly, well, the very best. Moist, decadent, it is highly recommended.
We were promptly greeted when we arrived and were shown to our table after about 10 minutes of waiting. Our server did well, though I was disappointed that our drinks sat completely empty for nearly five minutes at one point. And as I've said, the little things bring together a great experience for me. So, to my surprise after our entrée plates had been cleared and our dessert arrived, we had no utensils to eat it with. Our server promptly corrected it when we saw him again.
The restaurant is very nice, well decorated and designed. The booths are situated in a way you don't feel like you're dining with the party next to you. It's a nice, contemporary atmosphere.
J. Alexander's was an enjoyable lunch for my wife and me. We agreed we'd try the restaurant again. And as for my two expectations, the bill rang in about $80 before the tip. As for the steak, well, my search continues.