Diner: Review: Eddie Merlot's

New Montgomery spot follows in that fine steakhouse tradition of outsized personality

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Joe Lamb

I can't help recalling the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit when I think of the name of one of our newest steakhouses, Eddie Merlot's. Oh wait, that was Eddie Valiant.

As it turns out, this Eddie doesn't have a private investigator's license or even ties to the mob. According to the restaurant's menu, the name pays homage to a customer. One night a man named Ed asked Bill Humphries, the founder, to surprise him with a great wine. When the wine, a merlot, was served, Ed was exceedingly impressed and told Bill, "From now on, always order the merlot."

"And from now on," Bill replied, "you're Eddie Merlot."

Once beyond the name and through the front doors, Eddie Merlot's brings another great steakhouse to mind: The Capital Grille. We're not fortunate to have one in Cincinnati but Eddie Merlot's treats the steakhouse mystic in a similar fashion: At Eddie's you are to sit back, be pampered and eat a huge meal, and I do mean huge. Just like in Texas, everything's big at Eddie Merlot's, from the oversized wall art to the architectural columns throughout the main dining room to the 20-ounce bone-in ribeye.

As we arrive at our table, we find that the sitting back part of the equation is actually a little problematic. When my step-dad and I settled into the soft, brown leather armchairs, we realized we were too far from the table to eat. Once the food comes you have to perch on the edge of your chair.

We should have realized the chairs were designed for the "after-glow" (they even have wheels for an easier pushback), but we didn't heed the warning and began our meal with a "small" Hot Seafood Medley with crab cakes, fried calamari and BBQ shrimp wrapped in bacon ($39.95). Four miniature pan-seared fresh lump crab cakes came with a bourbon jalapeno corn, sweet potato straw; the four jumbo shrimp were accented with fresh horseradish and lightly brushed with a tangy Southern Comfort barbeque sauce.

My favorite, the sesame calamari came with lemon, a garlic/ginger soy sauce, fiery hot Chinese mustard and creamy Wasabi dip. The calamari was tender and lightly fried — it reminded me a bit of eating popcorn.

For a beverage I ordered Eddie Merlot's Merlot ($9) — what else was I going to pick after the wine's buildup on the menu! My step-dad, realizing this is the kind of place where men drank scotch, chomped cigars and made back-room big-money deals, ordered a Dewar's on the rocks ($8.95), which he drank with his homemade Baked French Onion soup ($7.50).

I guess I should warn places that serve French onion soup when my stepfather comes: He makes a mean one and does not suffer fools when it comes to this dish. Eddie Merlot's version didn't measure up. It would probably pass if you didn't know any better, but the broth was too sweet and lacked the depth long, slow cooking can impart to this simple concoction.

I had the half Chopped Salad ($5.95), and my eyes would probably have bugged out even more if I had gotten the full version: It was a huge amount of lettuce, Gruyere, red onion, celery tomatoes, hearts of palm, prosciutto and almonds. It was big but fresh and quite tasty — tasty enough to make a lunch out of the leftovers the next day.

Already stuffed and determined not to even consider dessert — which would have been fun; options include Bananas Foster ($14.95) and a Vanilla Cognac Brownie ($13.95) for two made tableside — we ordered our entrées: the 8-ounce filet mignon ($39.90) and the Grilled Salmon with a mushroom Béarnaise sauce ($24.95). We also ordered the fresh Asparagus ($8.95) and Cippollini Onions with Charred Jalapeños ($7.95) as sides. The Lobster Mashed Potatoes ($16.95) were calling but we'd already finished most of a loaf of warm garlic-topped bread.

All of Eddie's steaks are prime cut, aged for a minimum of 21 days and hand cut by their chefs. They also offer four preparation styles: Oscar, with lump crabmeat, asparagus spears and Béarnaise sauce; a crushed black-pepper crust and cognac demi-glace; a bacon blue cheese crust; and with a stuffed shrimp accompaniment.

Both of the entrées were excellent. My step-dad's Oscar-style steak was tender and prepared just as he ordered: The server and chef had the good sense not to question the customer on this point. The salmon was light and not overly cloaked in sauce, but I was a bit perplexed by the raw mushrooms piled between it and the fish. It didn't add anything; perhaps they would have if they had been sautéed or left as full caps and stuffed with something and served on the side.

The Cippollini Onions were one of my favorite dishes of the night. They were the biggest ones I'd ever seen (imagine that), similar to a low-cal onion ring and fiery with jalapeños.

Eddie's follows in that fine steakhouse tradition of outsized personality — in portion size, excellent service and the desire to make everyone, even if just for an evening, feel like a big shot.

Go: 1080 Montgomery Road, Montgomery

Call: 513-489-1212

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday

Prices: $19.95-$39.95

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, soups, seafood, chicken

Accessibility: Fully accessible

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