by a Yankee diner
AUBURN – When I mentioned to a colleague my plan to review Chuck's Steak House, her face lit up and she said “I love that place, especially the salad bar with the onion soup.”
She's not alone. Chuck's is a popular place and on a recent Saturday evening we had to wait to be seated. It was just a short wait, though, and the lounge, with it's large bar, fireplace, hand-painted murals, and pool table provided plenty of distractions in the meantime.
For many years, the building on the corner of Rt. 20 and Prospect Street housed two separate restaurants: Chuck's Steak House and Margaritaville, with separate kitchens and dining areas. A year-and-a-half-ago the menus for the two were integrated, and customers no longer had to choose between steak or Mexican.
“The response has been fantastic,” said owner Steve Londregan. “It's a little more work for the cooks and waiters, and the timing is more of a challenge, but the customers really appreciate having everything on one menu.”
The layout of the Margaritaville side of the house was changed to Margaritagrill. Its seating was moved into the lounge area, and the space was renovated to be a function room.
The Steak House side remains as it was, laid out in cozy, private sections with half walls and shelves full of books, which diners are free to borrow and return on their next visit. “We can seat 220 people, but you never see more than 50 from any one table,” said Steve.
The books have a story too. Many of them came from the public library in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, which would periodically update its books and give the old ones to Chuck's. “One whole shelf is full of the books I needed to get through Holy Cross,” said Steve. And some of them are his father's old law books, leather-bound.
Chuck's Steak House in Auburn was once part of a chain, founded in 1959, by Charles “Chuck” Rolles, in Waikiki. His partner Ken Williams brought the steak house and salad bar concept to the East Coast with a restaurant in West Haven, Connecticut, first of a number of restaurants across the country.
The Auburn location opened in 1978 and Margaritaville was added as a separate restaurant in 1982. A few years later, in 1986, Steve and co-owner Tom Flynn bought the business from Chuck Rolles and his three partners, kept the name and continued the steak and salad tradition.
Now, onto the menu and the soup and salad bar. “It's extremely popular,” he said. “The onion soup is a recipe we've used for 36 years.”
All the steaks are premium quality and handcut on the premises and the Mexican items on the menu are handmade daily. Steve tells us they also sell a lot of salmon and haddock, surmising that people are becoming more health conscious. They also added some Italian items to the repertoire when the menus were combined, and the chicken parmesan with its homemade marinara sauce has become a best seller as well.
The list of appetizers on the menu is extensive, including standards such as jumbo shrimp ($8.95), stuffed mushrooms ($7.95), nachos ($7.95), calamari ($10.95) to more exotics like escargot ($8.95) and risotto balls ($7.95).
The Chuck's Steak House menu entrees feature beef of all kinds, from an 8 oz. top sirloin ($16.95), New York strip ($23.95), prime rib ($21.95) to BBQ ribs ($18.95 for a full rack).
Seafood entree selections include broiled haddock ($16.95), salmon with dill butter ($16.95), and beer battered fish & chips ($15.95).
The unlimited soup and salad bar can be added to any entree for $4. As a meal it's $12.95.
The Mexican menu contains tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, and fajitas. The menu concentrates on fajitas, describing them as serious business, and containing fresh juicy skirt steak, known for a rich flavor that makes it the best meat for fajitas. Fajitas are $14.95.
Our party of three chose a full rack of BBQ ribs, the blue cheese haddock ($17.95), and the vegetable burritto ($9.95) for our entrees. The ribs were a tremendous hit with our friend Bruce: “The meat is nice and tender,” he said. “It falls right off the bone. I'm pulling bones out of the meat, rather than pulling meat off the bones, that's how tender it is.”
The haddock was excellent as well, steaming hot and tasty. My veggie burrito filled half the plate; it was huge, and garnished with tomato, lettuce and sour cream. Half of it came home with us for dinner a day later, and it was just as good then.
Chuck's menu is available online at www.chucks.com, which is a good thing, because there are many more choices than outlined here. You absolutely will find something you like.
The bar in the lounge is very well stocked, with some good prices. Rolling rock on draft is $2.00, 10 oz Coors Light is $3.50. Other beers include Blue Moon, Goose Island, Wormtown Be Hoppy, and a new one: Shock Top Chocolate Wheat Beer.
We stayed with the wine, and chose a Pepperwood pinot noir ($7.25/glass) and a Mionetto prosecco ($8).
Chuck's Steak House and Margaritagrille are a comfortable place to “hang out” for a while, maybe play some pool, gather up a group for an after-work party, or go out for an excellent dinner.
Now that there's a dedicated function room, Steve says they are also ready to host events. That part of the business has really been growing, with holiday parties, corporate events, and family gathering such as funerals, graduations, and showers. (The function room is open when the restaurant and lounge are closed.)
Restaurant hours are Monday – Friday 4 p.m.for drinks, 5 p.m. for dinner; Saturday 4:30 p.m. for dinner; Sunday open at 2 p.m. for everything.
Chuck's Steak House is at 10 Prospect Street (corner of Rt. 20) in Auburn, phone 508-832-2553.