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Dining Out: Steak house has new name, same tradition

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RANCH STEAK HOUSE

31-64 21st Ave., Long Island City

726-5200

For more than 60 years the Old Charcoal Grill in Astoria/Long Island City was the place to be. Then it closed, to be reopened as the Ranch Steak House.

Only two families have owned it. And today, politicians, Mets and Yankees players and their fans frequent it.

The decor is darkened log cabin. Much of the walls and ceiling is the original. (The wood fireplace in the center, alas, is not). Tiny white lights are draped about the room.

I had anticipated an outdoor dinner, but the weather didn't cooperate. I started to fantasize about a cabin in Maine - especially since I was thinking lobster. Steak houses are known for the lobster they serve.

The menu of one page featured the porterhouse - U.S. prime beef with the "rich flavor of a shell steak and the tenderness of filet." My dining companion chose a shell steak, a "hearty portion of U.S. prime beef." It was served with creamed spinach and Lyonnaise potatoes - each was tops. The potatoes were sliced and baked with onions and green peppers, and the generous portion was impossible to resist. The spinach was puffy and very creamy, made with heavy cream, possibly whipped to add lightness.

I have eaten very few 2-pound lobsters in my life - I was always told the pound-and-a-quarter was juicier. This lobster had been broken down to make eating easier. It had been split lengthwise and the claws, large and small, removed and arranged around it. It was succulent. It couldn't be juicier and the small claws had lots of meat in them. There was drawn butter and those great Lyonnaise potatoes.

For our first course, my companion chose fried calamari rather than the clams casino. A platter heaped high with perfect circles arrived with a red sauce. The calamari was as "tender as my mother-in-law's heart," a complimentary comment Dad used to make. They weren't a bit greasy either.

Some like it hot and some like it cold. My cold appetizer was a sliced portobello salad. The portobello had been sauteed and served in the Ranch Steak House's own sauce. Actually, all the sauces were homemade. This sauce was not necessarily low-calorie, but since mushrooms are naturally very low in calories, one could enjoy it unabatedly. And the serving was steak house size, which means BIG.

Desserts are the tried and true: apple strudel, pecan pie, New York cheese cake, and chocolate mousse. And then there is ice cream, which can be topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

The apple strudel, a high, handsome piece, was served with a bowl of whipped cream - heavy cream, whipped stiff and sweetened with confectioner's sugar. I had cappuccino and added a dollop.

The luncheon menu features jumbo broiled burgers (10 ounces of prime beef for $8.50 with french fries and lettuce and tomato on a Kaiser roll. There are salads - grilled chicken, Caesar and a grilled salmon garden salad.

The jumbo shrimp cocktail (four pieces $12.95) and six pieces ($17.50) is still the top draw for steak houses, which is rather surprising. Shrimp has become quite popular - hot, cold, appetizer, main dish, supermarket party trays, all-you-can-eat salad bars. It is not the truffle-like item of yore.

Two appetizers of note: artichokes casino using the artichoke hearts and stuffed mushrooms with escargot are there for those with a more adventurous bent.

Ranch Steak House boasts "the best steak house in Queens," and there are reviews that proclaim it so. I won't go that far (I haven't been to all) but it was very, very fine. I'm having the claws tonight outdoors on my dining deck.

THE BOTTOM LINE

One of Queens' best. Dark Maine log cabin interior strung with twinkling white lights. Fine service. Excellent steak house fare.

CHEF'S CHOICE

Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail...4 pieces/6

pieces $12.95/$17.50

Tomatoes and Onions in House

Sauce...$4.50

Porterhouse Steak...for 2/3/4

$49.95/$74.95/$96

Filet Mignon (a thick cut western

beef with mushroom caps)...$22.95

Prime Rib (available Friday-

Sunday)..$21.00

Apple Strudel ...$4.75

Chocolate Mousse...S4.75

Food: Steak house menu

Setting: Dark interior log cabin

Service: Seasoned waiters. Very

good

Reservations: Yes

Parking: Valet

Dress: Casual

Credit Cards: All major (except

Discover)

Children: Accommodate

Takeout: Yes

Off premise catering: Yes

Private parties: To 40

Noise level: Low

Smoking: Bar

Handicapped accessible: Yes

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