2019 Update: The remnants of Steak & Ale were finally bulldozed last year. The large piece of property is still being cleared away. Some of the local news outlets have reported that a Dunkin’ Donuts and child care center will be built in its place.
They served up a steak that was to die for—literally and metaphorically. It was a garlic butter sirloin. I was only a teenager, but I had reached that point in my life where a slab of bloody meat on a plate had become one of my favorite foods. I cannot remember how many ounces it was, but it seemed gigantic to me. On top was a too-big-for-your-own-good scoop of garlic butter dotted with parsley. After only a minute or two, it would start to melt due to the heat of the steak. It was at this moment when a magical transformation happened, on the same level as a religious experience. When you cut into the meat itself, the blood and juices slowly mixed and mingled with the creamy butter and created its own unique sauce even more tasty and interesting than what it was supposed to be. I think I ordered this three or four times before the unthinkable happened…the restaurant serving it up, Steak & Ale in Middletown, went out of business.
It was a shock to this Hazlet kid just as it is still shocking now. But was there any noticeable change in all the years eating there? Definitely. Like a few other places in the same area, nights went from having to wait an hour-plus in a smoke-filled lounge for a table to just walking right in and being seated. The remnants of the restaurant are still there alongside Route 35. In recent years it has become dilapidated. The original stained glass windows have been replaced with Plexiglas due to cracking, weeds overgrow throughout the enormous parking lot, and the metal sign bears plenty of rust and a few cracks.
When I think of my childhood and eating out with my family, it is Steak & Ale which is at the forefront of memory. We didn’t eat here too often, maybe a few times a year, but the images are seared into my mind. The place was beautiful on the inside. Dark rugs, wood-paneled walls, dim lighting with candles on every table, and a small yet charmingly smoky bar at the right of the front door. Looking back on it now, it bore resemblance to an English pub with a twist. This was the one of the first places I ever ate at as a child which had a steak on the children’s menu. As I got older, it was the garlic sirloin that really hooked me.
I was never there at drinking age, but I do remember the bar and lounge. The restaurant as a whole was massive. At least three or four dining rooms, one of which was reserved for a now archaic term used by the hostess when greeted: “Smoking or non?” That is in addition to the bar and lounge and yet another room which was for a salad bar. When you sat down, they gave you a hot loaf of pumpernickel bread and whipped butter. When I was really little, I remember all kid’s meals coming with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream for dessert. A minor yet novel detail that still remains in the depths of my brain. Overall, the restaurant had a sense of class. One of the founder’s goals was to give people “a fine dining experience with chain steakhouse prices”. I believe he succeeded in his endeavor. There is hardly any other chain which comes to mind either existing or defunct which I would put on an equal pedestal with this place.
Yeah, I really miss this place. I let out a little sigh every time I pass it on the highway. It is still there, rotting away. The franchise is long gone, though I have read online that there are still a few in operation independently. There has been chatter over the years about a resurrection in the chain, but nothing has ever come to fruition. Instead, all I have are memories. Such thoughts are not shared by me alone. Frequent food conversations on Facebook with people in the area often times lead in the direction of restaurants no longer in business. Give it enough time, and Steak & Ale will be mentioned.