How does a steak house (and they are legion in Sarasota) set itself apart? At Connors Steak & Seafood, the newest addition to the collection of eateries and food markets at Westfield Siesta Key, creative appetizers and alcohol are part of the answer.
The former Southgate Plaza—despite its new name—is not on Siesta Key. But those on the barrier island living near the north bridge are convenient to this mall, which has been transforming itself into a dining destination. Connors is the fourth restaurant so far to join the line-up. It’s big, able to seat 250, and at capacity, the buzz from exuberant diners ramps up. Connors is part of a chain headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee; the Sarasota restaurant joins four others in the South.
Relaxed and less masculine in ambiance than a traditional steakhouse, Connors skews young, offering trendy craft cocktails, a plethora of small plates, and wine bottles that are part of the decor. You don’t need a sommelier to negotiate the wine list, which isn’t remarkable but isn’t super pricey, either—just approachable and pleasant, with plenty of selections by the glass in your choice of six-ounce pour or a nine-ounce one. Lots of bottles are in the $35-$45 range, most from California.
Appetizers are standouts, so good you might want to compose a meal of three small plates if you’re not looking for steak or lobster tails on your visit. Small plates range from $8 for fried mushrooms in Creole sauce to market price for a plate of blue point oysters, jumbo crab meat, shrimp, lobster tail and king crab leg plus accompaniments. Most appetizers are in the $10-$14 range. The lobster dip, served warm, is creamy, with a good portion of lobster bits, and for dipping you get puffed prawn crackers. Shaped like little scoops, these feather-light and airy prawn chips have a hint-of-the-sea flavor and are absolutely addictive. You get lots of them with the dip, for $12. Fire-grilled Kurobuta pork belly is another good one, as are the voodoo shrimp, calamari, truffled deviled eggs, or pan-seared ahi tuna with orange-ginger sauce.
Soups and salads include lobster-crab bisque, ahi tuna salad, bleu cheese-steak salad and other recognizable steakhouse choices such as spinach salad. Soups and salads range from $6 to $10. Steaks and chops range from $25 to market, with most selections averaging about $30. The usual suspects are here: ribeye, New York strip, sirloin, pork chop or lamb chops (four little ones with rosemary and mint). A house specialty is a plump, juicy filet mignon topped with a cloud of house-made boursin cheese and a tangle of crispy tobacco-flavored fried onion threads. This one comes in either a six-ounce portion or the nine-ounce, for $31 and $35. If you’re partial to prime rib, Connors does an exemplary job with this American favorite. A 10-ounce slab rimmed with an irresistible collar of tasty fat is $25, the 14-ounce portion $29.
Entrées come with a soup or salad and your choice of a baked potato or a side. Sides include conventional creamed spinach, garlic mashed potatoes, mac ’n cheese, creamed corn and asparagus. But there are also some unexpected items—deviled eggs, cheese grits, pearl couscous or collard greens. There are 13 sides in all, and five steak toppings.
At lunch and dinner, look also for pasta selections, burgers and fresh seafood ranging from fish and chips to swordfish scampi, cold-water lobster tails, Cajun red grouper or blue lump crab cakes. The price range is $18 (for the shrimp and grits) up to $28 for Alaskan halibut and market price for Alaskan king crab legs.
Desserts are pretty standard, although they are house-made and presented very nicely on a white plate with artistic flourishes. Average price is about $7, and each is generous enough for sharing. Choices include ice cream, strawberry shortcake, a multi-layer chocolate mousse cake, German chocolate upside down cake, Bananas Foster and crème brûlée. Can’t go wrong with any of them.
But it’s not the Connors intention to compete on the same level with these fine-dining experiences. Connors is catering to another steak-loving market—people who want a more relaxed, less wine-haughty experience, with beef that is satisfying and appetizers that are meal-worthy in themselves.