And at two of the five restaurants in Rod Anderson's growing Hereford House empire, a brand new style of beef is starting to make the grade: from cattle raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.
All of Anderson's restaurants serve upper-grade choice and prime steaks. But for the last three months, he's added a strip steak and top sirloin from Ranch Foods Direct in St. Francis, Kansas, to the menu at Pierpont's in Union Station. A few weeks ago, he also added Ranch Foods' top sirloin and prime rib to the month-old Hereford House in Independence.
"I'd have it available in all my restaurants if I could get a greater supply of the beef," says Anderson. "Our goal is to start serving more and more of it.
"Since [Ranch Food Direct's] cattle aren't all crammed together," Anderson explains, "there's no need to add antibiotics to the feed." This kind of beef is more expensive -- by about 15 percent, or up to $1.50 a steak -- but Anderson says that fans of the chem-free beef aren't complaining.
"It tastes better," he says. "At the slaughterhouse, the cows are killed with a process that completely removes all the blood, then rinses the beef to rehydrate it. The beef is much more tender."
Pierpont's grilled sirloin, prepared Dijon-style (glazed with brown sugar and mustard), was certainly the best steak I've tasted at that restaurant. The three steaks I'd previously sampled there had been on the tough side, but even a lowly sirloin -- hardly the choicest cut on any menu -- was nearly fork-tender in this drug-free incarnation.
Anderson isn't the only restaurateur with healthier meat on his mind. Steve Ells, chairman and CEO of the Colorado-based Chipotle chain, has replaced the vendors who had been providing the pork for the carnitas tacos and burritos served in his 160 "gourmet Mexican" restaurants. Ells now buys free-range pork from the California-based Niman Ranch Company, which harvests the meat from a network of 160 Midwestern family-owned farms. Owner Bill Niman says the pigs are brought up in "the most humane conditions."
"The term 'free-range' has been so abused that most people aren't sure what it means," Niman adds. "Our pigs are raised outdoors, never fed antibiotics, and are allowed to build nests, root and play." Niman says his pigs don't cost that much more to raise, but companies such as Chipotle pay a premium for the pork. "For our customers who believe in the humane treatment of animals," Niman says, "it's worth it."