Perfect cut: Archie's Waeside ranked one of top U.S. steakhouses

Tuesday, February 17, 2009
(Sentinel photo by Magdalene Landegent) Bob Rand, third generation owner of Archie's Waeside plans to celebrate rising to the top ranks in a magazine contest for America's best steakhouse by keeping the massive tender steaks coming.

San Francisco.

Boston.

Tampa.

Le Mars.

Archie's' Waeside, a three-generation Le Mars steakhouse, earned the community of 9,000 berth among those metropolises.

Out of 200 steakhouses nominated by reviewers and travelers, celebrity chef Rachel Ray's magazine staff picked 64 steakhouses across the nation to compete in what they dubbed "The search for the great American steakhouse." for their March issue.

Archie's' made that bracket.

Or, more accurately, two near-perfect steaming porterhouse steaks, matched with a side of Archie's' famous corned beef and the trademark relish tray, earned the Le Mars steakhouse that rank.

Archie's' owner Bob Rand, who's grandfather first opened the kitchen, said he later found out two food writers slipped in to taste Archie's wares -- unbeknownst to him or the steakhouse staff.

They both ordered the porterhouse.

And they loved it.

For a restaurant cutting about 2,000 steaks each week, Rand said he and his staff can't leave excellence up to chance.

They carry on the traditions passed on for 60 years now -- like steaks dry aged in-house and homemade salad dressings.

Dry aged steaks are high-grade beef hung to dry in a cooler for some time, making the meat tender and evaporating moisture from the muscle to intensify the flavor.

Archie's pairs those steaks with a carefully chosen wine selection and friendly waiters.

"Still, maybe it was better I didn't know they were here," Rand says of the critics, clasping his hands together.

Archie's' rose to the top 16, then earned berth among the final four with El Raigon of San Francisco, Grill 23 of Boston and Bern's Steak House of Tampa, Fla.

The food writer for the article flew to each of the final four, Rand said. Archie's was his third stop.

According to the article he wrote, Archie's was the winner for a few moments.

"He said, 'I think I just had the best steak of my life' more or less," Rand said.

Then Bern's Steak House in Tampa, an unusual joint, took king of the hill.

"Just to be mentioned with these 63 other restaurants is a big deal to us," Rand said. "Most of these are almost iconic in my eyes as classic American steakhouses, some which have been open since the late 1800s."

He hopes to see the owners of the other restaurants in Napa later this month when he heads there for a wine buying event -- a unique and varied selection of good wines is part of the core of Archie's Waeside along with steaks.

And maybe Rand will even meet Rachel Ray -- he hasn't yet.

Will the notoriety of being featured in the article change things for the steakhouse nestled into a quiet corner of Le Mars?

Rachel Ray's magazine is read by about 3 million people each month.

That's a lot of exposure for a steakhouse that doesn't even have a roadside sign. An out-of-towner might not even realize he drove by the place.

But people from South Dakota, Nebraska and beyond are already making their way to Archie's.

"Steak aficionados and food junkies -- they'll find their way here because they read about it," Rand said. "And we've had probably 500 emails and phone calls in the last two or three days."

All this for a restaurant that will celebrate its 60th anniversary in March.

"We've got 40 years left to get to 100," Rand laughed. "I think we're just kind of getting started."

Today Archie's' employs about 42 people.

"The key to the success of the restaurant are the people who've worked here and made it happen," Rand said. "We probably have 10 people who've been here over 25 years."

Rand started at Archie's when he was 14 years old, cutting meat.

Now he's having fun running the place.

"I can't wait for the door to open every night and see what's going to happen," Rand said.

The Le Mars steakhouse bears the name of Rand's grandfather Archie Jackson who emigrated from Russia to work in the stockyards -- a hub of life in that day. Archie even earned early fame in the stockyards ring as a fighter.

Then, 60 years ago, Archie made the leap and opened his own steakhouse.

"The ideas that Archie had, they were great ideas because we've been through this steak boom in the last 15-20 years and a lot of the ideas he used in the '50s are exactly what these models are built after," Rand said.

Rand's mother, Valerie Rand, ran Archie's' Waeside from 1973-94. Then Rand purchased the steakhouse

"The core items haven't changed," Rand said. "We still make all of our salad dressings from scratch from his recipes. We hand cut every steak, age every steak the same way he did."

Even some of the traditions Archie started live on.

It's not on the menu, but if you say you want the "Benny Weiker" you'll be served a delicious, specific tenderloin cut, dry aged.

Here's the story.

In the '50s and '60s, Archie knew a beef salesman from the stockyards named Benny Weiker. Weiker thought the beef in northwest Iowa was the greatest in the world. The claim was that all the beef Weiker bought went to posh restaurants in New York and the like.

"He was legendary in the yards," Rand said. "You talk to anybody in the old yards and you say 'Benny,' they'll say 'Weiker' before you can even say it.'"

Archie decided to name a steak after the man.

Rand, who remembers getting out of school Monday afternoons to go with his grandpa to the stockyards to pick meat, agrees with Weiker's philosophy.

"The greatest beef in the world is raised right here in northwest Iowa and northeast Nebraska," Rand said. "We are fortunate enough to be able to buy that every day and dry age it and sell it. That's our secret."

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