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Nebraska beef is focal point of Red Cloud's Palace Steakhouse
by Phil Soreide, Betty Sayers and Pam Soreide
Red Cloud is one of those quintessentially Nebraska small towns. Set in rolling hills dotted with cedar and cottonwood — vibrant green this time of year — you can really feel history on its red brick streets. (Interesting tidbit: it was founded in 1871 and named for Chief Red Cloud, a Lakota Sioux who just a few years earlier had been waging bloody war on the United States. That would seem to make the town’s founding fathers surprisingly open-minded.)
We have come to poke around Red Cloud a bit before trying out dinner at the Palace Steakhouse, which we’ve been told is a venerable landmark in downtown. But we hadn’t really counted on the fact that mid-week late afternoons are pretty quiet in Red Cloud, and not many shops were open.
We peered through the windows of Cather & Company Booksellers and Coffeehouse and wished fervently we could get inside. The cozily mismatched chairs and well-worn tables, the shelves groaning with books, it looked like the kind of shop where we could spend an afternoon. But, alas, not today.
We walked on down the main street and shot a picture of the impressive brick edifice of the Willa Cather Historical Center, then went around the corner and took another of the humble house where Willa Cather lived. As every good Nebraskan knows, Pulitzer Prize winning author Willa Cather grew up in Red Cloud and was inspired to write some of her most influential early works, specifically My Antonia and O Pioneers!, by the Nebraska landscape.
But enough of this sightseeing. We’ve come for a taste of what those Nebraska pioneers’ left us as their legacy: Nebraska beef.
Where’s the beef?
Few restaurants in Nebraska make it a point to buy Nebraska beef, and the fact that the Palace Steakhouse does piqued our interest.
As you push open the door, you can see the emphasis owners Tom and Linda Hitchler place on their beef: their grill is right out front, waiting; hot; smoking a little; sizzling. Okay, interior decoration is not the strong suit of the Palace Steakhouse. It’s a family place, a community place, so a few gents in seed caps are having beers at a venerable wooden bar, while families and small groups are scattered at the boxcar-siding booths and tables with sturdy metal chairs.
The Palace does have an interesting mural, made of mirrors and depicting the New York City skyline, including the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center, to which tiny American flags have been appended. In the end, the Palace Steakhouse is a steakhouse, and doesn’t pretend to be any more than that. It’s the kind of place where people can come and just relax; where you wouldn’t kill yourself if you spilled a glass of Coke on the carpet.
Our quest continues
Our waitress is friendly and vivacious and tells us the onion rings are top-notch, so we ask her to bring us a batch to get started. Regular readers know that we are searching for the best onion rings in Nebraska, and by this time have tried rather a large cross section. The Palace’s rings, we have to say, rank right near the top. Crisp, with a tasty, not-too-heavy batter, these got extra points for the Ranch dip, homemade at the Palace, which was creamy and delightfully garlicky.
Then it came time to order, and for some reason all that interest in Nebraska beef suddenly went out the window.
“I’ll have the Walleye and baked potato,” said one of our group.
“I’ll have the catfish and coleslaw,” said another.
“Darn. I guess that means I’m stuck with the bacon-wrapped filet mignon and French fries,” groused the third, fooling no one.
The Palace Steakhouse, we learned, is a family affair, having been started by Bob and Ilah Buckles in 1971, then taken over 25 years ago by the Buckles’ daughter, Linda and her husband Tom. The building had been a garage, skating rink and tire store before it’s current incarnation.
The Palace’s original mainstay was the Char Burger, which you can still get, but now the menu offers a lot more variety, including all the cuts of beef you’d expect (New York, T-bone, sirloin, flatiron, and rib eye; prime rib Thursdays only), as well as seafood, entrée salads, sandwiches, and something called a Double Fudge Frenzy or apple pie for dessert. Monday nights are “A Little Bit of Mexico at the Palace”, with a variety of Mexican specialties.
We all three ordered the bleu cheese dressing for the dinner salad when we heard it was homemade. It was pretty good, with generous chunks of bleu cheese. The Walleye and the catfish were both “freshly breaded in our own special spices” and deep fried, so how bad could that be? They were pronounced flaky and delicious.
The bacon-wrapped filet really lived up to its billing – tender, juicy, richly flavorful. This is the embodiment of “umami”, the so-called “fifth taste” that scientists have discovered we have specialized taste receptors for — a pleasant savory taste, rich and round in the mouth. The filet was very umami. Way umami.
Too stuffed for dessert
There are those among us who might have liked to try the “rich chocolate ice cream blended with chewy brownies and layered with chocolate mousse, chocolate fudge and chewy bittersweet brownie pieces”, but portions at the Palace Steakhouse are generous, and we settled for coffee instead.
Was our experience at the Palace Steakhouse sublime? Transcendent? Finest restaurant we ever saw? Well, no. But it was darn good. The food was well-prepared by people who cared, the staff was friendly and attentive, the drinks were generous, the steak was excellent. If you’re looking for a good Nebraska steakhouse, the Palace Steakhouse in Red Cloud is one we can recommend.
And when you think about it, that’s saying something.
Who to Contact
125 West Fourth Street
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Mon-Sat, closed Sunday