Seared 2 success 

No Broadway baby, Angelo and Maxie's fame and fortune lies solely in the steak

Pretend you manage a 40-unit steakhouse chain that's sliding toward oblivion. Imagine that the old formula -- macho beefsteaks, eyepopping real estate, supersize salad bars, Hawaiian shirts, indifferent everything else -- isn't working any more. Some operators would stuff a bag with cash and take a night flight to Brazil, humming "Good Night, Baby" all the way to Rio.

The honchos at Chicago-based Chart House are toughing it out. When profits dived toward Red Ink City several years ago, they shuttered some units, began patching up others and -- hey, it was the '90s -- rolled the dice with a Gen X concept created from scratch.

In this case, "scratch" is a line from a 1935 show tune. "Lullaby of Broadway" (from Forty-Second Street, lyrics by Al Dubin) mentions a fictitious Theater District diner called Angelo & Maxie's. In the song, the eatery is ballyhooed as one of the highlights of a Broadway baby's night on the town.

Forty-Second Street is much changed since then. The scene along the strip has gone from legitimate theater to porn-slum and back -- with Disney spectacles such as Aida currently selling out. Still, corporate honchos have got to dream, too. The "real" Angelo and Maxie's opened in 1996 in the Flatiron District and was acquired by Chart House Enterprises in 1999.

Flashy promotional materials from Chart House call their baby a "Generation 2 Steakhouse" that is "Never 2 Hip." Get the message? I sure don't. The Midtown outpost, which happens to be the concept's first out-of-town tryout, was designed by a top local shop, Johnson Studios. Aside from a neat, glassed-in cigar bar and a memorable men's room, everything looks right out of the latest steakhouse catalog. Art Deco ceiling lights? Check. Leatherette booths in Versace black? Check. White tablecloths topped with butcher paper, white oval platters and logo steak knives? Rolls in a metal basket? Check, check, check. Check.

Besides towels, aspirin and mouthwash, men's room amenities include a spray bottle of Creed cologne, a very New York touch. I was less amused by the ultra-bright, phallic-shaped light fixture at face level directly over the urinal. Normal-size men such as myself will feel as if pissing into an oncoming Harley. When I asked the attendant if the facility had been designed by a woman, he laughed and said he wasn't going to get into that. Presumably, he'd heard it all before.

Angelo and Maxie's steaks are actually better than those I remember eating at the Atlanta Chart House, an unlamented attempt that opened at Powers Ferry Landing almost a decade ago. Two versions of the 28-ounce, bone-in ribeye ($21.95), as well as a single 14-ounce filet mignon ($22.95), were round and thick as pillows and almost as agreeably tender. We specified that the meat be cooked medium-rare and that very little be done beyond searing it. That's just how they came out, nicely charred outside, red-pink and meaty within and hardly harmed by the platter's puddle of unnecessary sauce.

Steaks are not only delicious but large enough to share. Taken home, I made two more meals on the remains of each of the ribeyes. You may want to skip the $24 prime rib, though. Mine tasted scorched, not roasted, and I sent it back. A 10-ounce slice of yellowfin tuna with soy glaze and braised greens tasted OK ($19.50). Taste isn't everything. When presented, the fish was barely warm while the plate on which it rode was properly hot. The reverse might have worked better.

Sides and starters range from a first-rate baked potato ($4), decently seasoned black bean soup of the day ($4.75) and plump, moderately tender steamed asparagus ($6.50) down to creamed spinach that's better than canned -- but not much. A large side of hash brown potatoes was barely cooked inside and intensely greasy throughout. The house salad and a chocolate dessert were generic and forgettable. Onion soup approximated hospital food.

Table service is outgoing and upbeat. Managers roam the premises smiling and introducing themselves. Bus boys still need direction (Don't grab that plate while we're still eating!) but that may come.

Young business types, mostly handsomely dressed and well behaved, seem to be trying the place out. Whether they'll drop plastic in sufficient numbers to keep Angelo and Maxie's stockholders singing hip hooray and ballyhoo until the milk man's on his way, well, that remains to be seen.


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