Terry Maxwell left quite a legacy with his two restaurants, first in the northeast then in a historic building downtown.
Though the former city councilman has now moved onto talk radio, his legacy is still present in Horse in the Alley Vintage Steakhouse, the former location of T.L. Maxwell’s that, though he’s gone, still bears a bit of his spirit, and that’s a good thing. It’s not just that South African malva pudding, it’s the wines and the sauces and the classy ambiance that has a dignity that only the decades can provide. If you were a fan of this place when Terry was running it, I think you’ll like what the new crew is doing.
New owners Jason and Beth Browder, who worked as servers at the old restaurant, have found that tantalizing middle ground between respecting what Maxwell started and putting their own mark on the place. It probably helps that they were able to retain former head chef Raul Cerda.
We visited on a weekday night and, while the bar was packed, the dining room had only one other party. The menu is a bit more like KC Steakhouse, Cafe Med or the old Valentien, with big salads, pastas, steaks, chops and seafood. My companion selected the lemon drop grilled salmon ($29.95) while I chose the Blue Grass pork chop ($32.95).
The sauces were what made both the new and old restaurant special, though certainly the support food has its charms, too. It started with some hot pull-apart sourdough rolls served with a melted roasted garlic butter dip that my companion could just not resist. Hard to save any of the bread for the entrée sauces when you get that kind of a greeting. It continued with the giant baked potato served with my pork chop that was cooked perfectly, moist and dense inside, the perfect repository for the butter, sour cream and chives.
My companion chose the rice and noticed it had what she called a “harvest” flavor. Our waitress explained that was finished in the oven with chicken stock and olive oil. You can’t beat a combination like that, which was one of the signs to me that a reliable foodie was making kitchen decisions.
The salmon had been grilled and featured a lemon-dill sauce that I worried might be too sweet, especially with that name and childhood memories of those candies at the movie theaters. The slightly charred texture was perfect, and the crowning touch was the steamed vegetables on the side (squash, carrots and broccoli) and sliced avocado segments resting on top of the seafood.
It was more of the same with my entrée, the pork chop perfectly cooked, still juicy inside, with a Kentucky bourbon/garlic/thyme sauce that was thin on top but perfectly proportioned to not overpower the pork. It glistened when presented as if someone had just slathered it with maitre d'hotel butter. The portions on both plates were more than generous, my pork at least an inch thick.
Other menu items we were tempted by included the veal la stresa with a sauce of truffle, sherry and mushroom ($29.95), the grilled salmon with a garlic and port wine reduction ($29.95), the rack of lamb with a rosemary-merlot sauce ($38.95) and the filet mignon with that amazing cognac cream sauce ($38.95).
The dining room is pretty similar to what it was save for a pretty majestic metal horse structure near the booths furthest from the entrance. Maxwell used to include the history of the building on the back of the menu, and I have a feeling the new owners know that is a key part of standing out in a competitive downtown dining scene. They put all the information on the restaurant's webpage. The modern way.
We did try the famous pudding mentioned above ($8.25) and it seems to be presented in a different format than what we enjoyed at Maxwell’s. Unless my memory is playing tricks, I recall it served as something of a mini-bundt cake, but now it is like a slice of a high, thick cake with the same sauce, pronounced apricot jam presence and we did clean the plate pretty much. Taste is no different.
Service was personable and quite professional with a good knowledge of the menu.
Horse in the Alley Vintage Steakhouse can be recommended for a fine dining experience.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.