You’d think the Twin Cities already had every kind of steak a meat-lover could desire: dry-aged beef at Manny's, the silver butter knife steak at Murray's, Wagyu beef at Burch.
But something was missing. And if you guessed that something was “a place where you can cook your own steak on a heated rock,” you’d be correct.
Blessedly, FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar at the Mall of America is stepping up to the plate, with a new “tableside amenity” (is it an amenity if you pay $35 to do more work?) that allows you to cook a steak on a blazing-hot river rock. After confirming via Google that cooking meat on heated rocks is indeed a thing people do when camping, I decided that this was something I had to check out. I’m a big fan of beds and indoor plumbing, and driving to the mall is a little more my speed than schlepping into the wilderness.
My husband, Mike, who makes an annual trek to his off-the-grid cabin to commune with nature and cook pork chops on a stick over an open fire, was skeptical of the whole endeavor.
“I’ll give them points for creativity,” he conceded. “But I don’t think heating up a rock is the most efficient way to cook meat. Also, how do you know it’s an actual river rock?”
My friend Chad—who once treated me to a 10-minute diatribe about a well-done lamb chop—was more concerned about my cooking skills. “Whatever you do, don’t overcook it,” he advised. “Medium-rare. No, rare. It should just kiss the grill. Or, rock.”
My sister Rachel was more blunt. “That sounds gross.”
With these words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I set off for MOA. While attached to the mall, FireLake is set back from the teeming masses, located off the self-consciously trendy lobby of the Radisson Blu. The aesthetic is farmhouse chic, with reclaimed barn wood and muted lighting. It’s the sort of place where the menu touts local purveyors, and honey is sourced from beehives on the roof.
My server actually specified what type of rock I would be cooking my steak on: basalt. And yes, I was that person who asked where my rock was sourced from. Disappointingly, it was purchased online--the executive chef did haul in prototype rocks from the great outdoors, but the concept didn’t scale. “Leave no trace,” and all that.
Indeed, my “river rock” would only pass for the genuine article in a game of Minecraft. It was a perfect rectangular prism on a wooden tray, with a dish of several thin slices of marbled steak—Zabuton, a “prime cut of meat” from an Olivia, Minnesota farm that’s “Wagyu quality.” It was accompanied by Northwoods grilling spice, rooftop honey apricot glaze, and Boundary Waters steak sauce. (I could feel my husband’s eye roll from the other side of the metro.)
“I think it would be a minute and a half on each side for medium-rare,” said my server. “And be careful, it’s super hot.”
It was also heavy, as I discovered when I tried to maneuver my rock into position for a photo. Instagram-worthy shot achieved, I gingerly placed the first piece of steak on the slab of basalt. There was a satisfying sizzle and the intoxicating aroma of seared beef.
Then, the panic set in. How long had it been? Ten seconds? Thirty? I really should’ve set a timer on my phone. I flipped over the piece of steak... and promptly forgot, once again, to look at the clock. Was it done? What did medium-rare look like, anyway?
Cooking steak on a rock is a gimmick, but somehow it’s an effective one. I think it’s the sensory aspect—the sizzle, the smell, seeing the meat transform before your eyes. My first attempt hovered between medium-rare and medium, but it was respectable. As I chewed my way through the first bites, I felt a sense of pride completely out of proportion to the amount of effort I had just exerted.
I did chill out as I cooked my way through my steak pieces—the nice thing about having a 350-degree rock at the table is that you can always throw your steak back on if it’s a bit too rare for your liking. Precious names aside, the rooftop honey apricot glaze had an unexpected and welcome spiciness, and the Boundary Waters sauce had a bold flavor that managed to complement the meat instead of overwhelming it.
Is cooking steak on a faux river rock something that I’m going to make a habit of? Probably not—while tasty, it’s more of a once-is-enough novelty. But as I walked back to my car, past the camping gear at L.L. Bean, I felt a little bit smug.
I cooked a steak on a rock, and then I got to retreat to the comfort of my suburban townhome with indoor plumbing and a comfortable queen-sized bed.
It was the best of both worlds.