Sometimes food is pretty simple. Take the filet mignon at Chaz 51 in Venice.
A filet is cut from a cow’s tenderloin and is prized for its lean, delicate texture. While most steak aficionados these days prefer the fattier, more flavorful ribeye, the filet will never disappear from steakhouse menus, and Chaz 51’s preparation shows why.
The filet is served in either a six- or nine-ounce portion ($32-$36). Either way, it’s a thick, imposing hunk of beef, charred on the outside, but light red on the inside—cooked just to medium rare like I asked for. It needs salt, a fork and a knife and nothing else (although a slathering of tangy béarnaise sauce on the side for $3 doesn’t hurt, either).
Owner and executive chef Charles Amherst first opened Chaz 51 as a café and coffee shop in Nokomis in 2015, then reinvented the space as a bistro a couple years later. Last year, amid the chaos of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurant moved to a new space in Bird Bay Plaza in Venice, tripling its capacity and undergoing another rebrand, into its current identity as a steakhouse. The space is large, but chopped up into different rooms, so you don’t feel like you’re dining in a warehouse. In the back, you’ll find a cozy, dimly lit bar that has already become a popular happy hour destination for Venetians.
Stick around for dinner and you’ll find plenty of steakhouse classics. In addition to that filet, there’s a ribeye ($36) and a New York strip ($30), with plenty of froufrou upgrades, like the option to add lumps of blue crab or a blue cheese crust, as well as a variety of finishing sauces like the béarnaise. I like the filet better, but the ribeye is another quality selection, cooked exactly to the requested temperature and served with no fuss.
An iceberg wedge salad ($12), meanwhile, is exactly what you’d expect—a monolith of iceberg lettuce dressed with bacon, crumbled blue cheese, onions and tomatoes and plenty of blue cheese dressing. The French onion soup ($7), another steakhouse staple, is rich and sweet, if also a little too salty, and comes topped with a disc of melted cheese. A roasted tomato and crab bisque ($7-$10) is better—creamy and smooth and doused with plenty of spice.
The only miss? Surprisingly, it’s the burger ($15), which is nice and pink in the middle but lacks the flame-kissed crust of a great patty. Other sides, like a plain Caesar salad ($12), a baked potato and thin French fries are OK, but don’t stand out.
Of course, a steakhouse has to offer something for those who don’t like beef, and Chaz 51’s menu includes broiled grouper ($33) and shrimp and grits ($26). Meaty scallops dusted with parmigiano-reggiano and herbs and then seared ($33) make for an excellent non-meat option, while the verdant, flavorful sautéed spinach and the thick wedge-shaped fries on the side remind you that you’re still eating at a steakhouse. An even better option: Add those scallops to your filet mignon ($44-$48) for a belly-busting special occasion. You deserve it.