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Raising the Steaks

[whitespace] Hindquarter Bar & Grille
George Sakkestad

Meating Spot: Hindquarter Bar & Grille is a carnivore's haven, full of menu items like these Chicago baby back ribs and Texas T-bone steak Bob 'Swanny' Schwanbeck is holding.

At Hindquarter we find much better beef than we even have a right to expect

By Christina Waters

LIKE MANY OF US, Jack tries to avoid anything fried. But he was not avoiding the light, crisp deep-fried artichoke hearts at Hindquarter Bar & Grille last week. Why should he? Like sin made almost holy--with a great tartar sauce to boot--the piping hot, expertly dispatched appetizers ($5.99) set the tone for a solid dining experience that gave the entire steakhouse concept a very good name.

Old-time Santa Cruzans can remember when this place emphasized the "bar" in "bar and grill." But what was once a restaurant wrapped around a saloon now manages to be true to its larger mission--providing a stylish safe house for carnivores who refuse to compromise when it comes to culinary finesse.

It was prom night when we visited, and the back dining room was filled with guys in cummerbunds and girls in long satin gowns. The front room was packed with extended families all fussing over each other's food, yet not one of the young staff members at Hindquarter missed a beat making sure our basket of two breads arrived the moment we slid into one of those big black booths.

A glass of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 ($6.75) and another of Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel 1997 ($5.75) arrived in large goblets, a generous pour that opened lavishly throughout the meal.

"I never eat fried food," Jack insisted. "But this is incredible." He quickly popped the last artichoke heart into his mouth as our shared appetizer salad of baby greens arrived aromatic with a fine tarragon vinaigrette and strewn with glazed walnuts and crumbled blue cheese ($5.99). I firmly believe that a green salad is required when dining on red meat. (I ordered the evening special of grilled venison [$21.99], and Jack settled on the petite filet [seven ounces for $15.99] after lingering long over the house specialty, "Jack's Pepper Steak.")

The salad went beautifully with the finely textured seed bread, and my zinfandel was expanding into a creation of spice and pepper when our entrees arrived on huge, heavy white dinner plates. Meat and potatoes taken to their primal, straightforward roots were showcased on each. My slices of rare, grilled venison--very tasty and richly flavored--lay next to a ridge of roughly mashed potatoes boldly inflected with plenty of garlic.

Jack's large filet mignon--I wonder who can actually finish the 10-ounce version--was sauced with wine and mushrooms and sat next to a nicely prepared, if boring, baked potato. Both plates also contained long, tender spears of fresh asparagus. Excellent fresh asparagus.

We traded tastes of everything, and pretty soon we switched plates. Jack fell in love with the venison and its outstanding sauce of port and sun-dried cherries. I was seduced by the satiny tender, yet not wimpy, filet mignon and just as much by the confident potatoes.

Hindquarter's spacious booths allow romantics to gaze into each other's eyes throughout dinner, but its noise level on weekend evenings can make intimate talk a bit difficult. The neighboring conversations were slowing down a bit by the time we decided to take home our remaining venison and beef and split one of the house desserts.

The enlightened contemporary grill, which Hindquarter certainly is, knows enough to provide a selection of red wines to match the food--the Santa Cruz Mountains cab was velvety to the last sip--and some appropriately indulgent pastries to finish the effect of dining opulence. One of these was a light, moist New York-style cheesecake, flavored with ultra-creamy Bailey's liqueur, topped with fresh strawberries and slathered with unsweetened whipped cream ($4.99). Jack praised the pliant chocolate cookie crust, but I just kept mining the impossibly creamy mid-section of the large wedge.

Consistent from start to finish, Hindquarter delivered a meal memorable enough to inspire a repeat visit in the very near future.

Hindquarter Bar & Grille
Address: 303 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
Phone: 426-7770
Hours: Open daily; lunch 11:30am-2pm; dinner 5:30-9:30pm.
Service: *** Swift and accommodating, even on busy nights
Ambiance: ** Cozy yet bustling, it bridges the steakhouse, family dining room and contemporary grill
Cuisine: *** Excellent grilled specialties share an adept menu with fine seafoods and excellent side dishes
Overall: Hindquarter continues to rule--it does so many things right that other places could take lessons.

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From the May 26-June 2, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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