The building Steve’s Dakota Grill calls home has housed a restaurant since the early 1930s, most recently the Pine Tree Tavern. Owner/manager Ron Levitt says it took a year to get the neglected building back into shape. He gutted the place, added a new kitchen, heating and air conditioning, a new bar and furniture. Just about the only element remaining from the old days is the wormy chestnut paneling in the dining rooms. Every stick of it was restored, and the warm glow of the precious wood now sets the stage for the restaurant’s hunting-lodge atmosphere.
Steve’s Dakota Grill is part of a Mansfield, Ohio-based minichain (four locations in the state) whose principals Levitt had worked with when he was with the now-defunct Girves Brown Derby chain of restaurants.
“I liked the look of their restaurants — the hunting lodge in the Northwest atmosphere,” Levitt says. “And I knew their philosophy of offering high-quality food in a family-friendly atmosphere and outstanding value would succeed in this market.”
While the basic structure of the menu is the same at all four locations, management gives Levitt the freedom to add items as dictated by the demands of his clientele, available ingredients and the abilities of his executive chef, Dan Roberts.
Unless you arrive on a Monday night, very early (around 4 p.m.) or very late (after 9 p.m.) you will likely have to wait for a table. The restaurant does not take reservations and, on a busy Friday or Saturday night, the wait could be as long as an hour.
Call-ahead seating is available, but it doesn’t guarantee you a table, just a spot on the waiting list. So, while the restaurant is a favorite for families, some little ones might get cranky waiting. Grownups can avoid that with the help of the bar’s outstanding, and outstandingly priced, drinks. Cases in point: a jumbo margarita (made with Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila and Rose’s Lime Juice) ($4.99), a respectable Bombay Sapphire martini ($4.99) and a frozen daiquiri ($3.99).
Once you stagger to your table, service is friendly, efficient and fast. These servers know the menu and, if you ask, will carefully explain every dish and ingredient. We started with the fried calamari ($6.59), the crabmeat-stuffed mushrooms ($6.39) and a special appetizer, not on the menu but recommended by our server, of oysters, crabmeat, tomato slices and buffalo mozzarella ($13.99).
The calamari was excellent — a generous portion of lightly breaded and crisply fried rings and tentacles. They were tender, sweet, flavorful and served with an excellent marinara sauce for dipping. The stuffed mushrooms were plump and broiled perfectly, offering plenty of texture and flavor. The crabmeat and cheese filling was a little heavier on the cheese than crabmeat, but satisfying nonetheless. If a restaurant offers oysters on its menu, it needs someone in the kitchen who knows how to open and serve them. Unfortunately, every bite of these came with a mouthful of shell fragments, a sure sign of an amateur shucker. They were dry and lacking that mouthful of briny liquid that is part of the pleasure of raw oysters. The crabmeat was tasty, if a bit salty, and the buffalo mozzarella luscious and creamy.
Other appetizers worth trying include cabin fries — potato nuggets topped with cheese, scallions and bacon ($5.99) and an outstanding jumbo shrimp cocktail ($6.79).
All entrees include a tossed green salad, mainly iceberg, or Caesar salad (mainly romaine) and a huge baked potato (white or sweet). All salads are generous and fresh, though we found the house-made blue cheese dressing weak in flavor.
Most folks come to Steve’s Dakota Grill for the steaks. They are worth the trip to Medina and the wait for a table. Offerings range from a 9-ounce sirloin, tasty and tender, for $10.79 to a huge 22-ounce Porterhouse for $19.99. My personal favorite is the 14-ounce New York strip at $16.99. Whatever your choice, it will be tender and perfectly cooked with a fine crisp, slightly sweet exterior crust and rosy, succulent interior. All steaks are served with potato or rice and a tangle of crisply fried onion strings.
If you’re not into steak you might opt for St. Louis-style ribs ($14.99 for a full rack, $11.49 for half). The meat is succulent, fall-off-the-bone tender and generously coated with a sweet barbecue sauce. Or try rotisserie chicken; half a chicken, weighing at least 2 pounds, is usually moist and fresh tasting, though on one visit, rather late on a weekday evening, we found it a bit dry and tough ($9.99). More recently, however, the kitchen redeemed itself with an outstanding combination plate of barbecued ribs and a tender and delicious quarter of a roast chicken ($15.99).
Not on the menu, but sometimes available as a special, the veal porterhouse ($23.99) is a perfectly cooked chunk of milk-fed veal that is tender and melt-in-your-mouth.
Seafood selections include broiled scrod ($10.99) and broiled salmon served with dill-flavored Hollandaise ($14.99). But the real seafood stars are the crab legs and giant lobster tail, both offered at market price. King crab legs are served in a 24-ounce portion. The lobster tail is a full pound of prime crustacean, perfectly cooked to sweet, moist succulence and served with drawn butter. (Price varies, usually $35 or more.)
For dessert you’ll find a selection of ice creams, cheesecake, chocolate cake and bread pudding. The chocolate cake is a towering, four-layer affair that’s rich and moist, frosted with ganache and served with a dollop of whipped cream ($6.99). It’s big enough for two (or four) to share. The bread pudding ($4.99) is served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Steve’s Dakota Grill, 2809 Pearl Road, Medina, (330) 725-6288. Reservations are not accepted, but call-ahead seating is available on weekends. Hours: Mon-Thu 4-10 p.m., Fri 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Sat 1-11 p.m. and Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.