At Thanksgiving, we have abundant opportunities to express thanks. And I’d like to do so now: In this time of turkey, I’d like to express my gratitude for the perfectly cooked steak. I suspect that, in a couple of days, I won’t be able to gaze upon a turkey leg, turkey sandwich, turkey tetrazzini or turkey chili without wanting to flee. I will be truly tired of turkey, which is where that perfect steak comes into the picture. When that happens, you might find me at Donovan’s Steak & Chop House.
When Donovan’s opened in May, in the location once home to Baci Trattoria and, more recently, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the obvious question in my mind was: Does downtown Salt Lake City really need another steakhouse? Ruth’s Chris didn’t survive long, although my understanding is that Ruth’s Chris’ closing had more to do with corporate and management considerations than a lack of patrons. Still, with Spencer’s, Fleming’s and Christopher’s all within spitting distance of one another, why risk opening another—especially in this economy?
I can’t answer that last question, but I’m glad they did. In part, that’s because dining at Donovan’s is an exceptional experience with a bit of a retro vibe—think Mad Men without the cigarettes. The main dining rooms and the lounge are beautifully appointed, the type of place where you want to kick off the evening with a dry martini or Brandy Alexander. Cool jazz wafts through the rooms, management wears natty suits and servers are decked out in black ties. It’s hard not to feel like a VIP at Donovan’s, a restaurant that’s hell-bent on making every dining experience feel like a special occasion.
Entering Donovan’s, you’ll likely be greeted by general manager Casey Bulkley or one of his polished management team. Arrive early to take in the gorgeous lounge and enjoy a signature cocktail ($7) like the Whiskey Smash. From 4-6 p.m. on weekdays in the lounge, Donovan’s features a happy hour with specially priced appetizers and free Prime steak sandwiches and wraps. Those sandwiches are killer. And, you’ll notice I mentioned Prime steak sandwiches. That’s because all of the beef at Donovan’s is USDA Prime—something no other Salt Lake City steakhouse can claim. USDA Prime beef represents the top 2 percent of all graded beef in the United States.
But before you dig into one of Donovan’s Prime steaks, I suggest sharing (portions are large) an appetizer or two. The bacon-wrapped scallops ($16), finished with fennel compote, are superb. But a total knockout— and possibly the best thing on the entire Donovan’s menu—is the seared Cajun lamb chops appetizer ($19). It’s a quartet of bone-in, Cajun spice-dusted lamb chops, seared with a crispy crust, medium-rare and tender on the inside. Another truly outrageous appetizer I got to enjoy during a fundraiser for the Ronnie Price Foundation was Donovan’s chilled seafood tower: soaring icy peaks of Australian rock lobster tail, Mexican Gulf shrimp, Alaskan king crab legs and Canadian snow crab claws, along with drawn butter and dipping sauces. This bad boy is big; you can make a meal of it.
I appreciate that, at Donovan’s, entrees come with fresh vegetables and a choice of baked potato, garlic mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes or skillet-fried potatoes with sautéed onions and peppercorn gravy. Few things make me crazier than paying $42 for a steak and then having to throw in another $8 for a baked spud. Granted, prices aren’t exactly cheap at Donovan’s, but you don’t leave the restaurant feeling like you’ve been mugged.
My go-to cut of beef at any steakhouse is the ribeye. At Donovan’s, you’ve got a choice between the Prime 16-ounce ribeye ($42) and the Prime 24-ounce ribeye chop ($48). Either is sensational and perfectly cooked, but the chop gave us a more leftovers to bring home. For those who like their beef a little leaner and melt-in-the-mouth tender, there are four Prime filet mignon options: 8-ounce, 10-ounce, 14-ounce and a 10-ounce peppercorn filet. Other delectable meat choices at Donovan’s include New York strip steak, T-Bone, Prime chopped beefsteak, center-cut veal chop, Porterhouse, cherry-glazed pork chop and a stupendous Australian rack of lamb ($39). Chef Brett Bartholoma employs a unique high-temperature/slow-cooking process to ensure that each and every piece of meat at Donovan’s is cooked to perfection, exactly as ordered. It’s one of a handful of restaurants in town where you can really get a rare steak.
Adding to the enjoyment of dining at Donovan’s is floor manager/sommelier James (Jimmy) Santangelo, who recently moved to Donovan’s from Fresco. With Santangelo’s wine expertise and engaging personality, a dinner at Donovan’s can quickly turn into a party. Santangelo’s enthusiasm for wine is infectious and, before we knew it, during one dinner, we found ourselves with five or six glasses in front of us—wines ranging from Olivier Leflaive “Bourgogne les Sétilles” and Kistler “Vine Hill” Chardonnay to Bodegas El Nido “Clio” and Royal Tokaji “5 Puttonyos.” In tandem with fine servers like David, Heath, Leith and others, dinner at Donovan’s truly is fine dining: You’ll want to dress up.
By the way, with all that food and drink, you might decide not to drive. No worries: The restaurant will transport guests to and from local hotels and businesses via their free Dono-Van. So, if like me, you’ve had your fill of fowl this Thanksgiving and you’re hankering for Prime beefsteak, just jump onto the Dono-Van.
Donovan’s Steak & Chop House
134 W. Pierpont Ave.