Story by Debra Smith
CALGARY, ALBERTA — Stephen Deere is passionate about romantic dinners, soft music and a steak house ambiance to which women can relate — so why doesn’t the owner of Modern Steak have a girlfriend?
We settled into a comfortable booth at his 130-seat, two-level restaurant in Calgary’s Kensington neighbourhood for a heart-to-heart chat. “You could say that Modern Steak was designed to solve a problem”, Deere says. “My former girlfriend wasn’t crazy about going out to a traditional steakhouse. It was a hard sell, the dressing up and the huge portions. The question was, what do I have to build to create a welcoming environment?”
The answer is the upscale but relaxed Modern Steak (107 10A Street NW, Calgary). The staff are friendly and professional, dressed in dark blue denim jeans, black shirts and aprons. Guests can dress up or not as they wish and still feel comfortable. “We don’t like rules or dress codes,” says Deere.
He has been involved with every design decision from the décor to the tableware and is constantly fine tuning the guest experience. That doesn’t leave him much time to date.
The black, ivory and grey palette he selected plays out in a variety of textures: ivory brick accent walls; black lace wallpaper; black leather pillars studded with rhinestone buttons and sheer ivory curtains that shelter cozy wood tables. Mirrors, carefully hung above soft leather chairs, reflect the soft lighting. The result is a warm and inviting neutral space where the guests bring the colour.
A former full-time DJ and promoter who toured with musicians like Snoop Dog, Deere brought 1990’s hip-hop and R&B to the Modern Steak soundscape. He curates the playlists personally to keep things energetic, and at just the right volume for conversation.
Deere’s attention to detail is reflected in the menu too. Modern Steak serves only Alberta beef, grass-fed, grain-fed, dry-aged, wet-aged and wagyu, 365 days a year. Farm owners from the respected operations of Brant Lake Wagyu, Benchmark Beef and Pine Haven Farms are on speed dial. The herd from Brant Lake is a cross between wagyu (the source of Kobe beef) and Red or Black Angus cattle that results in a hardy breed with a well-marbled texture that produces buttery soft steaks.
Deere and chef Dustin Schafer size all their steaks to order. No overwhelming amounts of protein here, unless you want it, of course. The menu also includes vegetarian and seafood options. Corey Laurin mans the bourbon-laden bar, adding creative cocktails like the No Text Back, along with the classics.
Deere is partnering with Jack Daniel’s on an extreme whiskey-infused 80-day dry-aging process, just in time for the 2017 Calgary Stampede, which starts on July 7. He’s also pondering a potential long-distance romance. Talk about modern love.
More Calgary Steakhouses to Savour
Caesar’s Steak House (512 – 4th Avenue SW and 110, 10816 Macleod Trail SW, Calgary) — The alternative office for Calgary oil-patch execs since 1972 is still going strong. There’s a “Mad Men” vibe at the original downtown venue and a more contemporary offering at the newer Willow Park location. The perfect place to dress up and celebrate a special occasion. Traditional — white tablecloth, discreet service — with entrees including onion soup, cheese toast, salad and choice of sides.
charbar (618 Confluence Way SE, Calgary) — The award-winning team of chef Jessica Pelland and owners John Jackson and Connie DeSousa of CHARCUT Roast House fame have imported the rich rustic tastes of Argentina to Alberta. They’ve installed a genuine parrilla, an Argentinian wood-fired grill, in an oak-floored and iron-beamed heritage building that overlooks the banks of the Bow River. Offerings include a ceviche and raw bar of fresh west-coast seafood and an assortment of tasty sharing plates. The Alberta longhorn grass-fed beef for their signature steaks and gaucho burgers comes from the 7K Ranch.