Restaurant review: Get a classic steakhouse dinner at the new Knight's Downtown location

By Kim Bayer | Special to The Ann Arbor News

Posted Dec 10, 2014

Known for big strong drinks and big strong steaks, it seems like Knight's Steakhouse made a savvy move when they expanded their small empire into the old Border's space on Ann Arbor's Liberty Street with Knight's Downtown Steakhouse. With the U-M campus close by, they may have been pursuing a younger demographic than the one that keeps the 30-year-old "classic" Knight's parking lot filled. Even with the current craze for small plates, food trucks, and international fusion cuisine, an equal and opposite craze for enormous portions in amply padded seats and an Americana menu balances the Knight's end of the dining continuum.

There’s a certain sweetness in the historical throw-back that is Knight’s. The coved ceilings with words like “porterhouse” and “baked potato” inscribed inside; the solid wooden U-shaped bar; the “Knight’s wall of fame” with over 100 photographs of their regulars; the life size portrait of founder Ray Knight beaming over the dining room.

And especially the huge plates of meat and potatoes food untouched by strong or complex flavors of herbs or spices. It’s a kind of food that speaks to an earlier time in how we celebrated our nation’s largesse at meals. The protein at the center of the plate with a host of classic sides is reminiscent of grandma’s cooking and it is comforting all the way down to your belt - which will need to be loosened after your meal.

Nighttime at Knight’s Downtown is dramatic, with a blaze of light from the Michigan Theater marquee framed in many of the windows. We started dinner one evening with cocktails and the waitress made a point of telling us “well, this is Knight’s and there is more than one drink in each drink - we’re known for a very heavy pour.” It kind of encapsulated the experience: the service is nice, the food and drink are straightforward, and there is much more than plenty.

Knight’s Downtown Steakhouse is a classic example of the steakhouse genre. Cooked-to-order steaks from top grade beef form the core of the menu, with a healthy dose of seafood, some chicken and pork, and several burgers. So if you’re in the mood for some meat, and you should be if you’re at Knight’s, a good way to go is with a classic steakhouse dinner.

Start with the refreshing and exemplary Knight’s wedge salad: an eighth of a head of iceberg lettuce be-sprinkled and be-lavished with tomato, red onion, bacon, and housemade blue cheese dressing. Several people told me about this salad and I loved it too.

Move on to a perfectly cooked and gigantic Porterhouse with a side of super cheesy gratin potatoes, or perhaps some onion rings. Creamed spinach is another classic steakhouse accompaniment - Knight’s version features a small mountain of fresh-cooked spinach coated in a strongly cheesy sauce. For the steak, I could have used more salt and pepper to bring out the flavor of the beef - but the top grade of meat made it plenty tender.

In other meats, I’d point out the thickly sliced flank of London broil in a wine-y, garlicky marinade surrounded by a sea of mushrooms; the mildly spiced black and bleu pork chops with a boulder field of blue cheese chunks on top; and the fork-tender baby back ribs with sweet cherry barbecue sauce.

Dinners come with a choice of soup or salad and my advice is to upgrade to the wedge salad or pick the soup. All of the housemade soups that we tried were very good, including an Italian wedding soup with tiny meatballs, a cup of just-right French onion soup capped with melted cheese, velvety squash soup with mouth-tingling curry (the only spicy item on the menu I think), and a respectable turkey and rice soup were among the options on different nights.

In addition to their regular items, Knight’s Downtown offers daily specials that are worth considering. I’d highlight a wonderful chicken pot pie filled with carrots, peas, and tender chicken in a creamy sauce as one example. A pork schnitzel with two large deep-fried boneless chops in golden crumbs paired with a sweet-tart red cabbage that my mouth is still watering over, and some sautéed spaetzle. A butternut squash-filled ravioli covered in duck confit as another.

Desserts, should your belt allow, are big and uncomplicated like the steaks. Lots of down-home choices like banana bread pudding, apple pie, “Knight and Day” pie with layers of white chocolate and dark chocolate cheesecake. Probably better to get a shot of whisky, make an appointment with your cardiologist and call it a night.

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