I am fighting a losing battle against the annual onslaught of holiday catalogs. Even off-season, my mailbox is regularly littered with the offerings of Williams-Sonoma, Victoria’s Secret, The Pottery Barn, J. Crew and Service Merchandise. But come October, the trickle becomes a raging river, sweeping over everything else in a mass of mail-order madness: Rand McNally, Crate & Barrel, Signals, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Godiva, Hold Everything, America’s National Parks, Childcraft, Wireless, The Museu
I had every intention of keeping up this year, of not letting them get the better of me. A month ago, I sat down with a basket full of accumulated catalogs, a pen, and a stack of color-coded Post-it notes. Hmmm, let’s see, Mom and Dad would probably likFrommer’s National Park Guide. Maybe this car thing for Steve and a set of rings and necklaces for Joy. The personalized baseball rack for Harry. I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I plowed through 10 catalogs in one night. But within four days, 25 more had weaseled their way into our house, and I knew I was doomed.
So, acknowledging the fact that you need another catalog like you need a hole in the head, I’m going to tell you about one more. No farther away than your telephone are the filets and strip steaks of Prestige Beef, a brand-new Nashville company with roots that go back two generations in the meat business.
Bryan Hall and Carey Bringle are Prestige Beef’s chief cowpokes.They’ve been pestering me for months to sample their products, but, doggone it, half the point of being a food critic is getting to go out to eat. Not ones to give up easily, they proposed hiring a chef to cook the food for me and a discriminating group of my choosing. The offer was impossible to refuse.
On Sunday night six of us piled into Ronnie’s fancy Lincoln Town Car and motored out to Brentwood for a spread that must have looked like a pregame meal for the Houston Oilers. I have never spent a more carnivorous evening and likely will never do so again, and I’ve probably stored up enough protein to last me into the next century. It certainly kept me up all night long. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.) My chemical balance has probably been so altered by this red-meat infusion that I’m not planning to make any weighty decisions for several days.
Prestige Beef is a subsidiary of Tennessee Dressed Beef, a meat-packing company Hall’s father operated in Nashville for 36 years. Bringle and the younger Hall wanted to strike out on their own and briefly contemplated a brew pub. Because Bosco’s got the Hillsboro Village location they were coveting, Hall and Bringle turned their sights to the wonderful, wacky world of mail-order sales.
Both were familiar with Omaha Steaks, an established mail-order beef outlet, but they felt there was room for one more at the trough. Prestige Beef’s first catalogue of filets, tenderloin, rib eye, New York strip and prime rib appeared in April. The company’s new catalogue, to be mailed within the next couple of weeks, has been expanded to include lobster, chicken and pork, the white meat.
Our feast began with Australian cold water lobster tails and stuffed tenderloin. We all noted that no knives were included with our forks and napkins. Now, that’s confidence in your product.
Sure enough, a fork was all anybody needed to tackle the tenderloin, which had been cooked slightly less than medium rare and stuffed with herbs, butter, mushrooms, onions and blue cheese. The filling was the perfect complement to the beef, but the beef could very well have stood on its own with a just a dab of mayo-horseradish sauce.
The lobster tails might have required a knife, if they hadn’t already been cut into near-bite-sized pieces on the buffet. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You get what you deserve when you order seafood in a steakhouse. However, if you insist on surf and turf, these tails were a good deal more tender than the others I’ve had around town, and they certainly retained more of the sweet flavor that one wants in a lobster (particularly when one is paying $70 for two lobster tails). The lobster was served with drawn butter and lemon slicesI skipped the butter, but the menfolk in our group lapped it up.
Our steak course offered the filet, rib eye and New York strip. Our group was unanimously lukewarm about the strip, which was a little tough and not particularly flavorful. It certainly paled in comparison to the filet, which was so tender that slicing into it was like biting into a ripe avocado. The rib eye, a popular steak with people who happen to like fat, was thick and juicy.
Finally, we sampled the chicken breast and pork chops. While the chicken, rubbed with lemon pepper, was tasty, let’s face itpoultry is poultry and boneless, skinless chicken breast is always available at your local grocery. Two pounds (about eight servings) of Prestige’s chicken breasts, which come individually wrapped and seasoned with either lemon pepper, barbecue or teriyaki-style sauce sell for $24. The pork chops, basted in a citrus sauce and as thick as the filets, were big winners, moist and meaty with a pretty color and no excess visible fat. Eight 8-ounce chops are $48, perfect for a small dinner party.
Everything, save the lobster, was grilled on a gas grill, the clear-cut cooking method of choice for all these meat men. I confessed to Prestige’s marketing guy, Reed Morgan, that in all of my vast cooking experience, I had never managed to cook a good steak. (How I got a husband I’ll never knowit must have been my meatloaf.)
Here’s his advice, straight from the cow’s mouth:
First, get the gas grill good and hot. Never pierce the beef, or you’ll lose vital juices. Using a pair of tongs, gently place the steak onto the grill. Sear 2 minutes on one side, turn (using tongs) and sear two minutes on the other. Turn the heat down, cover the grill, and cook for approximately 5 minutes more, turning once halfway through. I am assured that you’ll end up with a perfectly cooked, medium-rare steak. If you do not have access to a grill, the Prestige guys recommend pansearing and cooking instead of broiling.
Prestige Beef packs its orders in styrofoam coolers, protected by dry ice; shipping, by Fed Ex 2-Day Air, costs $7 per address. The company catalogue also offers Pepper Patch products and several marinades and meat rubs. For a copy of the new catalogue, call 1-800-532-6288. For the holidays, Prestige will also be carrying whole smoked turkeys and half and whole hams. Cooks are not included.