Dining out at a respectable steakhouse is always an occasion, but in truth, it’s not something I get around to that often—I sit down to steak infrequently for many reasons. A decent steakhouse is going to require you to really open up your wallet a bit — if you’re eating that bargain bovine, with sirloin/baked potato/veggies all for $20 or less, you can’t really expect to be overly impressed with the results. Additionally, getting your steak cooked properly seems to be something that’s far too uncommon. Medium rare (my preferred doneness) tends to be met with varying outcomes, and this only seems to accentuate the hefty price tag when things are not done correctly. It’s more forgivable to be presented with an overcooked burger—you’re put back, maybe, $10 — but a $48 dollar slab of beef is a bit harder to swallow when it comes out a little too close to jerky than you’d like. It’s high stakes eating, but of course, when done correctly, the rewards can be generous.
With family in town, we decided it was high time we rekindle our love for giant cuts of cow, swanky dining rooms, and a doting waitstaff — this go round, we determined to try our luck at Sonny Williams' Steak Room, that classic River Market steakhouse that overlooks all of the downtown hustle and bustle. It just so happened that Sonny is still doing things right, and our steaks were nothing less than top notch.
Appetizers made another favorable impression on our table. Fried boudin balls with fried crawfish tails were enjoyed by all. The boudin balls, stuffed with hot sausage and fluffy rice were coated in a crispy fried exterior, lightly dipped in a rich, spicy remoulade and just a drizzle of a spicy/sweet chili honey glaze. They were surprisingly light for a fried dish, and the four on the plate were slurped down within seconds. Small bits of batter-dipped and fried crawfish tails were tasty little nuggets as well, but the batter-fry technique tended to detract from the otherwise delicate, subtle flavor of the crawfish. Next, throwing all caloric caution to the wind, we opted for the spinach and artichoke hearts dip with jumbo lump crab and toasted pita chip. This dip was another winner amongst all at the table—rich, creamy, and buttery, but the delicate flavors of the spinach and artichoke still shone through the fat. But the pita chips really pushed the dish over the top. The description claims these are “toasted,” and they may be, but they tasted to be fried lightly in a pan. Though they appeared at first glance, due to their relative thickness, to be nothing more than greasy, hard and crunchy chips, we were all surprised by the airy, soft texture—another appetizer worth a sample.
I paced myself up to this point, as I knew what awaited me next was to be the most decisive point of the entire dining experience—the pièce de résistance—my bone-in cowboy ribeye. And with this steak, Sonny sealed the deal—I was won over. The kitchen managed to put out a truly exceptional piece of beef that night—one that had all the right attributes and all the necessary qualifications for a fine ribeye. I am decidedly a “ribeye guy” for many reasons, each of which was typified in my bone-in this night. It was rich with a full-bodied flavor, with all the essence of beef I search for in a great piece of meat. Far bolder and more flavorful and any filet could ever dream of, this ribeye held its ground nicely. The “bone-in” nature adds just a touch more flavor, as fat and flavor are leached out of said bone as it roasts—besides, it just looks sexy. Sonny’s crew managed to cook my steak to perfection—a trite, overused phrase—but in this case, it could not be truer. A beautiful red, warm strip of beefs clung to the center of each bite, the more cooked darker beef surrounding it. The person who prepared this cut did a fine job of trimming off just the right amount of fat—leaving just enough unctuous bits of gelatinous fat, without making this an overwhelming attribute. I enjoy the meaty chew required to get through a ribeye—something I always feel is missing with the filet. The steak is heavily seasoned, but this did not detract from the inherent greatness of the beef itself. Really, it was masterfully done.
At that point, sides and vegetables (which thankfully are included in the steak dinner, rather than a la carte) became an afterthought. The garlic mashed potatoes were fair, if not a little uninteresting, the green beans suffering a similar fate. But this was not bothersome in the least—my head was already clouded by the intoxicating perfume of sizzling beef in the air and the thin coating of fat enveloping my tongue.
It’s easy to rack up a steep bill quickly at Sonny Williams, but we never felt like we weren’t getting our money’s worth—and we’d go back in an instant, which I’d say is the true testament to a restaurant’s quality. Find a reason to celebrate and visit this place, and if that proves too difficult, invite me along for dinner and I’ll think of plenty of reasons to eat some of Sonny’s steak. It’s an experience I’m fully prepared to repeat.
(Sonny Williams' Steak Room is located at 500 President Clinton Ave Little Rock, 501-324-2999)