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Beefy Business 

Sal Saia has been cooking for the public for three decades, working his way up from pizza joints to his own elegant restaurant that maintains a steady cadre of regular customers and a reputation as one of the best steakhouses in the area.

The interior of Sal Saia's Beef Room & Seafood Grill (2645 N. Causeway Blvd., Metairie, 835-8555) is elegant, with subdued lighting, glass bricks and warm woods and colors. The atmosphere is casual, friendly and comfortable, however, with the emphasis on providing memorable meals and an enjoyable experience.

"We think of ourselves as elegant-casual," says Saia, who bought the restaurant five years ago from his father, who had operated it at another location since 1970. "We want people to be comfortable and relaxed. You're welcome to wear shorts if you want. The only thing I don't allow is cut-offs and [muscle] shirts. Our wait staff is friendly; we have very little turnover. [Customers] will ask for the waiters by name."

Saia's also offers banquet facilities for rehearsal dinners, cocktail parties, office gatherings and other events ranging in size from 40 to 300 guests. Plus, the menu offers a wide range of dining options to fit everyone's tastes. In addition to beef, Saia works magic on chicken, fresh grilled fish, all types of seafood, pork and lamb chops, and baby-back ribs. Potato lovers will find their favorite starch done many ways: baked, cheese-stuffed, house fries, au gratin, Lyonnaise, garlic-mashed and even baked sweet potato for those watching their sugar intake. Daily specials explore new takes on whatever fish or seafood looks best at the market on a given day; if they're big sellers or if customers request them often, they are added to an already diversified menu.

"I do a variety of dishes -- everything from seafood to Creole," Saia says. I also do special dishes for customers who have special needs," such as one regular who has an allergy to citric acid, a component not only of lemons but certain spices. "We'll also cook up something they remember from a previous visit that isn't on the menu if we can. We cater to finicky eaters."

The restaurant provides lots of choices for appetizers ranging from onion rings to crab fingers to fettuccini Alfredo as well as soups, salads and side orders that run the gamut from petit pois peas to broiled tomato. Seafood dishes include a fresh fish dish that changes according to market availability, jumbo lump crabmeat au gratin with broccoli and carrots, Maine lobster, and grilled salmon with shrimp dill cream sauce and broccoli. Non-steak meat specialties include Veal Supreme -- a cutlet that's paneed, then topped with jumbo lump crabmeat au gratin, green onions and mushrooms, and served with broccoli -- lamb rack chops with mint jelly and a baked potato, and baby-back pork ribs.

What maintains top billing on the menu and in customers' heart, is the beef: filets, rib eyes, New York strip and Porterhouse. "The main focus is on steak," Saia says. "You have to start off with a very good cut of meat, then it's how you prepare it and how you present it." To prepare the steaks, Saia coats the meat with a special seasoning mix before placing it in a high-temperature oven, which sears in the seasoning. Steaks are served on hot plates drizzled in a special butter mixture. Sauces such as bearnaise, hollandaise, bordelaise and marchand di vin are available for steaks, but Saia says "most people just like them plain."

Steaks regularly start at $19.95, however early birds can get a complete dinner including entree, soup or salad, vegetable side, dessert and coffee for $16.95 from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Sunday is "Steak Night," during which customers can buy one prime steak and receive a second one for half price.

To complete the fine dining experience, Saia's offers about 50 wines, priced from $14 to $50 a bottle, plus a featured "Wine of the Month" for $5 to $6.50 a glass or $20 to $25 a bottle. "Being a steak house, customers want a good wine; it compliments the meal," he says. "There are a lot of excellent wines out there, with different tastes and different bodies, we try to make it affordable for people to try them."

Saia admits the restaurant business has been slow since the terrorist attacks a year ago, but says he's holding his own against his main competitor in the steak business and continues to draw locals who hear about his cuisine largely from word-of-mouth.

"I like to attract the locals," he says. "I'm New Orleans born and raised; I started throwing pizza when I was 16. I want to be a part of the community, and I like to know my customers and what they like.

"My main competitor is Ruth's Chris. But customers come in and tell me our food is as good and our prices are better."

click to enlarge Chef and owner Sal Saia brings smiles to customers' faces, whether he's cooking up sizzling steak, juicy chicken or seafood delicacies at his namesake restaurant in Metairie.
  • Chef and owner Sal Saia brings smiles to customers' faces, whether he's cooking up sizzling steak, juicy chicken or seafood delicacies at his namesake restaurant in Metairie.
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