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Cox: Stark's still going strong

  • The bacon-wrapped 10 oz. Filet Mignon with whole-grain mustard bearnaise at Stark's Steak & Seafood in Santa Rosa, which was opened right in the teeth of the economic collapse of 2008. (JOHN BURGESS / PD)

''We've created a monster,” says Terri Stark, co-owner with her husband, Mark, of Stark's Steak and Seafood restaurant in Santa Rosa.

She was referring to the restaurant's jam-packed bar area, full of adults young and old creating an ear-numbing din as they happily schmoozed and noshed their way through a recent Happy Hour.

Every chair was filled and there was hardly room to lift a cocktail glass in the standing-room-only crowd. Outside, you couldn't find a parking space for several blocks around the place. What accounts for such popularity?

Stark's Steak & Seafood

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The Starks opened the restaurant right in the teeth of the economic collapse of 2008. To say business was sluggish is an understatement. So the couple instituted a Happy Hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays that featured not only discounted drinks but really good food at really good prices, and announced that the policy would continue until the Dow Jones Industrial Average went back up to 10,000.

We're talking margaritas and martinis for $2.50 on certain days, oysters on the half shell for $1.75 each, prime meatloaf sliders for $1.75, prime rib banh mi for $3.75, and a cheddar-bacon hamburger for $5.

When the Dow hit 10,000 in late 2009, an onslaught of regulars called the restaurant, fearing the prices would rise — but by then it was too late for the Starks. There was no going back.

That's one phenomenal thing about Stark's Steak and Seafood. Another was the eight-ounce, bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon ($46, 4 stars) on a specials list, served back in the blissfully quiet main dining room, with its dark, men's club, fern-bar atmosphere.

This hunk of Certified Angus Beef — that's the meat's brand name — comes from a whole filet that's been dry-aged in-house for 28 days. The meat loses a lot of water during its hang time on the meat hook, so it's denser than fresh beef, but not less tender. Over those weeks, enzymes in the meat break down connective tissue, rendering the meat silky as well as tender. The aging also imparts a unique, nutty flavor.

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