Many restaurants took a huge hit in the past 17 months because of constantly changing public health restrictions.
Now that restrictions are lifting across the province, the recent emergence of steakhouses in Calgary surprised food trends columnist Elizabeth Chorney-Booth.
"Even before the pandemic, I was speculating that we'd see a move towards smaller restaurants … where young and creative chefs can do weird and wonderful things that would appeal to really niche audiences," Chorney-Booth told The Homestretch on Wednesday.
"With the price of beef rising and so many people no longer used to shelling out for those big dinners, I absolutely did not think that more steakhouses were what Calgary would see when people had the opportunity to eat out again."
But steak is getting a lot of fanfare. The highly-anticipated Major Tom Bar, a new restaurant at the top of Stephen Avenue Place, has steak and prime rib showpieces. Earlier this year, Modern Steak, which has locations downtown and in Kensington, announced it's opened a third location in south Calgary.
These steakhouses are fairly modern, but old-school style restaurants are also doing just fine.
A few weeks ago, at the 1888 Chop House in the Fairmont Banff Springs, the hotel was quiet without tourists — but the restaurant was packed, Chorney-Booth said.
"[It] was surprising for a place with a fairly high-end price point," she said. "From what I can tell, the existing, more traditional steakhouses are still going gangbusters."
Along Stephen Avenue, there are number of steakhouses within walking distance, like Hy's, Ruth's Chris and Modern Steak.
Chairman's Steakhouse opened in Mahogany a couple of years ago, with a focus on very classic steakhouse style: the servers wear tuxedos. And places like Caesar's Steak House and The Keg are still going strong, too.
What's driving steak demand?
A certain style of service, combined with a familiar comfort food that people know they'll enjoy, is part of why steakhouses are popping up around the city, said Chorney-Booth.
"After such a stretch of having to cook at home or do takeout, a lot of people are just looking for a chance to be waited on and truly treated," she said. "There's nothing more indulgent than going out and having that full-on steak dinner."
But indulgent also means expensive. A lot of higher-end restaurants start their pricing at $60 or more for a single steak, with sides coming at an added cost.
With many grocery stores and butcher shops now carrying ranch-specific cuts, dry-aged steaks and wagyu, it might be tempting to grill your own — but it probably won't be quite so good.
"Most of these steakhouses aren't just throwing your meat on the grill and calling it a day. They have special cooking equipment that gives you that delicious crust on the outside and the perfect temperature inside," said Chorney-Booth.
"If you're going to splurge for a really fantastic piece of beef, it almost makes more sense to pay the restaurant prices when you know they're going to be doing it to absolute perfection."
More restaurants will serve their steaks sliced so that they can be treated as a shared plate rather than a single entrée. And some are becoming increasingly conscious of making sure there's at least one vegetarian item on the menu, said Chorney-Booth. Just check online before you go.
With files from The Homestretch.