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369 West Main Street, Northborough
By Bernie Whitmore
Can the basement of a suburban strip mall feel like a cozy barn? Yes it can, and The Steakloft proves it. They countrified theirs with lots of roughhewn wood stained deep brown, then illuminated it with old fashioned hanging lamps and divided it into intimate dining nooks that banish the Keno monitors to the lounge area. The magic quickly takes effect and soon I found myself listening for a moo or two.
For the holiday season they had swathed every available surface with a layer of fake snow and a stupefying collection of Santa-gnomes. Although my companions and I visited the eatery in mid-January, the Steakloft was still decked out in full Yuletide grandeur. Outside the air was frigid and crisp, inside it was warm and cozy ~ really cozy, since my corner of the booth was built over a heating duct that put me in the hot seat.
Our waiter soon arrived, presented menus and took our drink orders. I ordered a favorite ~ draft Bass Ale served in a handsome chunky glass mug. The Steakloft’s appetizer offerings include Escargot, Artichoke Dip, Irish Nachos and ten others; most standard, some inventive. But as we proceeded through the menu we discovered that the “All American Specials” include salad and vegetable or potato, so we decided to forgo the starters.
I chose the creamy parmesan peppercorn dressing for my salad. It was unusually good with bits of pepper and tasty cheese. The salads, generous portions of lettuce, cucumber, shredded carrots and slices of red onion, were crunchy-fresh and served in chilled glass bowls. They came with a basket of hot-from-the-oven bread that was crispy on the outside, chewy-soft inside.
My companions, beef lovers that they are, ordered Steakloft’s Prime Rib dinners ($20 each). Their plates came draped with slabs of thick beef welling with juices and accompanied by baked potatoes stuffed with butter and sour cream. Soon they were raving, “So tender it just falls apart!” And “Like butta, fork tender, good flavor!” The day’s companion vegetable was cauliflower, an unusual treat.
At my corner of the table, the mood was somewhat less merry. I know that when I visit a steak restaurant I should be prepared to take on the role of a good ol’ red meat carnivore. But that’s really not where my heart (or palate) is and the Steakloft menu had brightened my spirits with a page of entrée specials with more fish offerings than beef. So I chose their Shrimp Scampi ($17) for its simplicity and for the menu’s dazzling description.
If size were all that mattered, the Steakloft’s scampi would be a winner. Atop a large plate of pasta were nested at least eight jumbo shrimp. But upon sampling one I found it undercooked – not raw, but distressingly soft and limp. The fettuccini noodles were coated in a sauce composed primarily of oil. My initial impression of the meal was that it is a displeasing combo of oil and under-cooked shrimp; it took a second or third tasting to find the garlic and lemon flavors ~ true enough to scampi, but certainly not shouting “Fresh!”
Had my appetite remained intact, I might have sent the dish back to the kitchen for some additional time in the skillet, a twist or so of fresh lemon and splash of white wine. Shrimp are, I’m sure you’ll agree, a terrible thing to waste. But I was more interested in moving from my perch on the blast furnace and rearranging some of those festive gnomes.
So if you love beef, steer your chuck wagon straight to the Steakloft!