Meat and Greet 

The Mesquite Chop House gets cozy in a new neighborhood.

On Sunday afternoon, a tall, mustachioed man -- a minister fresh from church? -- stood over a table at the Mesquite Chop House in Southaven and prayed. And prayed. And prayed. His epic, thoroughly inspiring blessing sprawled across the room like a restless bedfellow commandeering a mattress. It seemed more than excessive at first gloss, but when the overflowing buffet came into view, it was clear: the poor man had an awful lot of food to bless.

On Sunday afternoons, the Mesquite forgoes its usual offerings of smoked quail, stuffed portabellas, Cajun-style pastas, and prime cuts and serves up a glutton's brunch featuring shrimp and grits, pork tenderloin, freshly smoked salmon, and a variety of entrées, fruits, vegetables, and desserts. For breakfast purists, nothing is missing; omelets and waffles are cooked to order and served alongside bacon, sausage, eggs (Benedict or scrambled), bagels, biscuits, and gravy. Home fries made with chunky red peppers and tender bits of smoky beef are a satisfying meal within a meal, and the Mesquite's melt-in-your-mouth prime rib is deeply scented with the sweetly smoky flavor of rosemary.

"We opened soft. We really wanted to get everything perfect," says service manager Rick McCracken, comparing the experience to his previous gig with a large franchise. "There, we would rush to get the doors open, and when people flooded in, the servers would get busy and lose their minds. We have 22 points of service from the time a server approaches a table and makes their salutations. There's never any pressure, whether a server has two tables or six."

The Mesquite Chop House was born out of a partnership between Beale Street restaurateur Preston Lamm and James LoSapio who learned his steak-house chops with the rapidly expanding franchise, Texas Land and Cattle Steak House.

"This place is really the first of its kind in this area," McCracken says. "And we're located in a place where seven new families are moving in every day. There are $180,000 homes here, $280,000 homes there. There are 700 proposed houses, and the growth potential is insane. We wanted to get in early and are looking toward the future."

McCracken is particularly proud of his handpicked wait staff.

"I stole them all from other restaurants, and they have been my best advertising," he says. "They would come here to fill out an application, see the place and all the art, and then they would go out and tell all their friends.

click to enlarge The decor at the Mesquite Chop House is satisfyingly low-key
  • The decor at the Mesquite Chop House is satisfyingly low-key

McCracken says recent changes to the restaurant's menu reflect customer tastes. A beef capriccio has been replaced by potato skins loaded with prime rib and blue cheese. Rainbow trout and bison are no longer on the menu, but tenderloin is. These new items join house specialties such as filets stuffed with crab or Maytag blue cheese, green-apple-stuffed pork chops, and a beautifully grilled Colorado lamb porterhouse.

Steak-house design is never modern. The decor is never coolly minimal, and the art on the walls is seldom, if ever, abstract. Rarely will you discover a chop house where either the colors or the lighting are particularly bright. Steak houses are built for comfort and tend to fall into two categories: dark and barnlike with gourmet baked potatoes and peanut shells on the floor or dark and chateau-like with brilliantly simple menus, clean floors, and splashes of sturdy, old-world elegance.

The Mesquite Chop House, situated at the very point where suburb meets countryside (but not for long), falls squarely into the second category. Though tucked into a strip mall, the five-month-old Mesquite Chop House looks and feels like a place that's been in business for generations. Solid wooden booths of button-tucked, cabernet-colored leather make for cozy nests. The restaurant's blend of cut stone and darkly stained wood and concrete act like flannel sheets for tired eyes, and the service is attentive but soothingly low key. Although the cookie-cutter neighborhood is coming on strong all around Goodman Road and Getwell, the environment is still sufficiently bucolic, making a trip to this promising meat emporium, only 20 minutes from downtown Memphis, a peaceful alternative to urban dining.

Mesquite Chop House, 5960 Getwell (at Nail Road),Southaven, (662-890-2467)

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