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FOOD & DRINK

It Might Just Moo

Port City Chophouse
1981 Eastwood Rd.
Price: $$$$
Mon.-Fri.: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sat.: 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Bottom line: It’s a good steakhouse with a great steak.

SPECTACULAR SASHIMI: The bright-red tuna and savory seaweed proves the quality of Port City Chop House. Photo by Bethany Turner

All restaurants exist for a reason. Whether I like the place or not, I try to recognize that each little food joint serves a purpose and has a following. I have my bias toward little mom-and-pop joints that specialize in cool, fun, new dishes. But there is something to be said for filling a niche. And while I may be no fan of chain restaurants, Port City Chop House fill its niche as well as anyone can.

It stands to serve Wilmington great steaks at modestly outrageous prices. I’m not damning with faint praise—they really do produce a remarkable steak (for which you’ll pay a good price) that you’ll tell your friends and neighbors about.

My most recent visit seemed perfectly charming. I’m not in love with their décor or their seating arrangements. The oversized booths are a pain to enter and leave. But thankfully we were seated at a floor level table and that improved the night dramatically.

Our round of appetizers would be enough to recommend the place. My tuna sashimi came to the table in a spectacular shade of red with seaweed and soy sauce aplenty. I’ve long been a believer in raw tuna appetizers. Nothing will tell you about the quality of a restaurant faster than gauging the quality of the seafood. The elegant blood-red fish told me that whatever reservations I might have about a fine dining chain ought to be overlooked.

And mine wasn’t even the best of them. The crab cocktail, with chilled lump and claw meat, looked every bit as good as it tasted. The sweetness of the crab meat, coupled with the delightful mustard of the dipping sauce, made for a rather remarkable pairing. Sweet shellfish remains a favorite of mine. The tangy sauce offset the crab beautifully.

The salad course proved a little bit too good to be true. I’m an admirer of the Chopped Salad, with its emphasis on bacon over lettuce. Let’s be honest: pork is far more flavorful than roughage. In fact, my only critique seems downright un-American: There should have been less of it. The salad could have been half the size and proven twice as satisfying. My oversized portion and the heavy-handed application of dressing were just a bit too much of a good thing.

But dinner at Port City Chop House is almost entirely about the steak. What they do, they do well. My very rare cowboy ribeye, 14 ounces of bone-in perfection, looked and tasted like a refresher course in what steakhouses should be. The tantalizing red meat, flavored only with salt and pepper, made me wish I could consume 28 ounces. Too many chefs try too hard to place their own stamp on dishes. Port City Chop House lets the beef speak for itself.

However, some of my guests wanted a bit more decoration to their steaks. We saw a filet mignon and a New York Strip arrive at the table au poivre. I adore au poivre. What’s not to love? There’s pepper, there’s heavy cream, there’s brandy—how many great flavors can a chef cram into one preparation? The Chop House does a fantastic au poivre. Rich and spicy, while not detracting from the quality of the beef, it is well worth ordering.

Just because a restaurant specializes in steak is no cause for forgoing white meat. My companion’s Bruschetta chicken, with beautifully acidic tomatoes and artfully crisp onion, reminded me that a good restaurant does a lot of things well, whether or not the mission statement mentions them.

Not everything about the experience proved perfect. I was reminded early on why I prefer smaller local restaurants over statewide establishments. Chains pride themselves on rigid adherence to standards of service. While well-meaning and eager, our waiter fell a wee bit short of that goal. He told one of my guests that the bar couldn’t give him a Greyhound, but they’d be happy to provide a vodka and grapefruit juice. I’m still trying to figure out what that little exchange was about.

Still, the Port City Chop House is a pretty establishment with a solid concept. They serve killer steaks at a moderately exorbitant price to people willing to pay it. I can’t fault them for having a good business model, and I certainly can’t fault them for executing it well. I admit I’d rather have a nice fish entrée at one of our locally owned bistros. But if you’re looking for a great steak in a good steakhouse then Port City Chop House is absolutely the right choice for you.

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