Strip-mall steakhouse plays hard to get


I can't say my initial visit to this German steakhouse on a Saturday night got off to a particularly good start. For one, I didn't eat anything because I wasn't seated; and I wasn't seated because I didn't have a reservation; and I didn't have a reservation because all my previous calls to the place went unanswered. Exiting in a mild huff, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd have to drive back another day, but not before calling them four additional times from my car, which served no purpose other than to provide a little microwaved warmth to my cerebellum. When I finally did get a human voice on the line many days later, it was none other than Matthew Winter himself. When asked why they didn't answer their phone between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. the previous Saturday, he responded, 'We were probably too busy to pick up the phone.â?� Whatever, man.

So back to Ocoee it was and, this time, a dimly lit booth amidst Bavarian chalet bric-a-brac beckoned. I have to say it felt pretty homey. Not sure why a lava lamp bubbled near the coffee machine ' perhaps to add a personable element, because the Winters don't exactly foster an environment of convivial warmth. Rather, a cool Teutonic efficiency pervades, not unlike that of a Volkswagen assembly line, where diners submit to the culinary equivalent of Fahrvergnügen.

There's a German dish or two on the menu ' bratwurst ($9), for example, and a wonderful paprika-tinged beef goulash ($6) that was more a soup than a stew. The shallow bowl didn't hold $6 worth of goulash, in my opinion, but the sublime essence had me craving more. Wedges in the tomato- avocado salad ($9) were bathed in a tangy vinaigrette and sprinkled with crispy roasted soybeans ' an interesting addition.

As a steakhouse, Matthew's lies in the meaty murk between family and premium, with cuts being of the Supreme Angus Beef variety, a USDA Choice, not Prime, grade. Rump steak also makes the menu here in the form of 8-, 10- and 12-ounce New York strips. A New York strip is traditionally a cut from the tender short loin, not the rear, but the fatless rump steak medallions on the mixed steak skewer ($20) were as tender and flavorful as any cut demanding a beefier price. Interspersed on the miniature sword were chunks of filet and even a stray chicken morsel, it, too, deliciously seasoned and tender.

The ribeye steak ($26) had more than the usual amount of marbling, but was cooked to order over their cherry and oak-wood open grill. The baked potato, which I slathered with their homemade sour cream, was the perfect side.

An 18-ounce porterhouse ($37), dubbed 'The Melbourne,â?� is also offered, but it's a lightweight compared to those offered at other steakhouses around town, including Outback.

Black Forest cake was surprisingly absent from the menu, but I enjoyed the German cheesecake ($6) with its light and fluffy filling and cakey crust. I also liked the German chocolate cake ($6), a warm marble cake dusted with powdered sugar and served with a dollop each of chocolate ice cream and fresh whipped cream.

Ã?bermensch he's not, but Matthew and his folks run a surprisingly superior strip-mall steakhouse; if only they were as adept at running over to the phone when it rings.


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