We had been saving Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint for a special occasion, and the occasion ended up being, “We are all free on Friday night. Let’s get together!”
While that worked out for us, you should be sure to call at least a few days ahead as it can be tricky getting a reservation at the last minute.
Another consideration if you’re looking to dine at Merrill & Houston’s might be your choice of weeknight. We arrived before 6 p.m. on a Friday, and things already were pretty lively. The noise level got louder and louder, and by dessert, I struggled to hear my tablemates.
I’m not complaining. It was great to see this is a popular party place. You just need to think about your days and times.
Walking through the dining room, there are two levels with intimate, round booths on the upper level and several tables on the main level. We were seated in a room off to the side, with soft music playing in the background.
The decor is relaxed and inviting. The walls are a rich, cozy brown, and hardwood flooring further enhances the ambience. We loved looking at all of the historical Beloit photos that filled the restaurant’s walls.
As for food, Merrill & Houston’s has a nice selection of appetizers. In fact, later in the evening, one of the larger groups near us ordered a huge platter with an assortment of appetizers. It looked amazing.
The shrimp de jonghe ($12.95), which we did sample, was outstanding. Shrimp can be tough, but theirs was perfectly done.
There was a crispy coating and plenty of butter (I recommend dipping the warm bread in this) lightly flavored with garlic. I digress to tell you, this dish originated from the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson is my favorite book about this fascinating event.
For the table, we ordered the cauliflower au gratin ($9.95). The dish, which featured a large serving of cheesy, delicious chunks of cauliflower, was incredibly rich, but we all loved it.
Dinners are served with a choice of soup or salad. I opted for the lobster bisque. There are a number of variations on this, and Merrill & Houston’s makes a smooth, rich base that is slightly sweet and lightly creamy.
The small, diced lobster bits in this version didn’t form the texture as larger chunks would, simply adding that extra “pop” of flavor.
Helene went with the cream of chicken soup which, while definitely creamy wasn’t overly heavy and oppressive. And the bite-sized chicken was nicely cooked. Lovely.
I need a to get a better education on specific cuts of beef. I do know that chewy, fatty steaks are not my thing, so I ordered the 6-ounce petite filet ($35.95).
What I have learned is not to overcook, so I asked for my steak to be cooked medium-well. I got something pretty juicy, a bit closer to medium-rare. Regardless, it was wonderfully tender and delicious.
Steaks at Merrill & Houston’s are served with a heap of crispy, thin onions and soft, flavorful mushrooms. My side choice of Parmesan potatoes was the perfect accompaniment, as it was not overly cheesy and featured small chunks of potatoes in the mash.
Nikki also ordered a steak, the 18-ounce rib-eye ($44.95) with garlic mashed potatoes and salad. There are many options for enhancing steak dinners—such as an Oscar topping ($9.95) with crab, asparagus and bearnaise, or cognac peppercorn ($4.95)—but she stuck with the house topping of mushrooms and onions.
Nikki likes her steaks medium-rare, but I think she ended up with my medium-well instead. With no questions asked, her steak was whisked away and quickly replaced. The manager also stopped by to make sure the meat had been cooked to her liking. She said it was excellent.
The farm-raised Atlantic salmon ($27.95) caught Helene’s eye. Simply served with a drizzle of butter and parsley on top of the lightly-cooked salmon, the dish was absolutely perfect. A mound of the aforementioned Parmesan potatoes accompanied the plate for a buttery, cheesy flavor.
Jennifer chose the wild mushroom ravioli ($26.95) for her main dish. The ravioli was garnished with fresh, chopped asparagus and halved cherry tomatoes. The sauce, a garlic butter concoction with basil, was to die for.
For her side salad, she selected the spring mix greens with cucumbers, shredded beets, tomatoes, shredded carrots and blue cheese dressing. The salad was very fresh, and she was impressed with the amount of blue cheese in the dressing.
Full, and with food to take home, we limited ourselves to one dessert. I’m glad we tried the banana bread pudding, which featured thick-sliced banana bread swollen with milk and butter. Whiskey, melted into the warm caramel topping, balanced the sweetness.
The perfect way to end a delicious dinner.