“Never eat fish if you can eat steak.”
My boyfriend says this was a common remark from his dad when he was still alive. His father was a very Minnesotan man, fond of fishing, but even fonder of steak.
There was a time, not so long ago, when a fancy Minnesota night on the town meant one thing and one thing only: the steakhouse. For many Minnesotans, this is still very much the case.
“We have a lot of anniversaries, first dates, birthdays; many people have gotten engaged here,” says Mark Lindemer, who currently owns Arden Hills’ Lindey’s Steakhouse with his brother David.
It may seem strange that the funny little structure on a funny little hill off North Snelling Avenue, with its wood paneling throughout and a lake-cabin vibe, is the place people choose when celebrating their most important life moments. But remember, special occasions call for steak. And this is not just a place for steak, but “The Place for Steak,” as the facade advertises in flashy red neon.
Lindey’s was born in the mid-1950s, when Louis Walter Lindemer had a revelation: “I know how to make a steak.” Not just any steak, but a steak that anyone could enjoy, for a fair price.
“He was just out of the Navy,” says Mark. (Louis passed away in 1994, and Mark and his four brothers took over the business. Now, 23 years later, it rests in the hands of just Mark and David.) “He figured out how to make sirloin. Not filet, not tenderloin, but sirloin, which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
Not costing an arm and a leg is just one of the hallmarks of Lindey’s, a one-of-a-kind, unlikely, but irresistible force for almost 60 years.
Lindemer began his business in the basement of Minneapolis’ Coronado Cafe, serving some of the very same meals that Lindey’s serves today (albeit a bit cheaper at $2.35 to $2.95 per meal). He quickly realized he needed a better venue for his steaks and set his sights on the Wagon Wheel.
The Wagon Wheel was a North Woods-inspired supper club in a 1930s building near Lake Johanna. Arden Hills would have been “up north” at that time, north of all the small, southern Minnesota towns. (Even though no body of water is visible from Lindey’s, you know you’re in lake country. You can practically smell it.)
And that location became Lindey’s lightning in a bottle. In the ’80s they tried launching an outpost in Medicine Lake, and it just wouldn’t go. “We tried the wood paneling, the half walls, everything,” says Lindemer. Still, it was a non-starter. There’s something special about the former Prohibition-era supperclub and a once-upon-a-time bottle shop at its entrance. The structure is almost dollhouse-intimate, with a stone fireplace and long wooden bar feeling oversized for the space.
The rest of the operation is tight as a drum.
Your “menu” is a sign on a metal post that your server parks in front of you like a traffic signal urging you to go. On that sign, find three kinds of sirloin: chopped, prime, and “special.” Broiled shrimp is the sole alternative for non-meat eaters, and each set meal is priced between $21.95 and $32.95.
Chopped is the most economical, a glorified burger without the bun. Prime is the end piece of the beast, and probably best for those with less pink in mind. Love a mid-rare steak? Spring for the “special” sirloin at a dollar more, arriving rosy as a flower petal and tender as can be.
Lindey’s cooks the meat to precise steakhouse temps. Rare arrives with a “red cool center”; medium-well is sliced in the kitchen then broiled to remove any pink. This “no tenderloin, no filet” imperative of Lindey’s slips from mind as your meat is presented table-side on a sizzle plate and sliced before you.
Other cornerstones of this meal include an iceberg lettuce salad with housemade Thousand Island dressing; all-you-can-eat seasoned potatoes also served on a sizzle plate; towering baskets of garlic bread; and, of all things, pickled sweet watermelon rind in a cup.
Any good restaurant with economics at its heart knows bounteous starches are paramount, and those at Lindey’s are not only abundant, but utterly delicious. The garlic bread is warm, fresh, fragrant, and addictive. Ditto the potatoes, a hybrid of smashed and hashed, with crisp brown edges and more seasoning than just garlic (it’s a family secret). Finish a plate and another arrives like magic, free of charge.
The steak, butchered and aged in-house, tastes deceptively lavish, with the table-side flourishes making a special occasion out of clever economy.
And therein lies the real magic.
“The longer we keep it this way, the more appeal it’s going to have,” says Mark. “And business is good.”
Even though Lindey’s is the sort of place with regulars — a place you go because your grandparents went, and then your parents, and then you—they do have a tactic for getting new business: Grab a Lindey’s postcard from the holster in the lobby and fill it out. Say whatever you like, but preferably some variation on: “You gotta try this place.” Lindey’s will postmark and drop it in the mail, gratis.
“It’s friend-to-friend, and it works,” Mark says.
Think about that. Lindey’s wants you to advertise their brand of steak to your friends, not your “friends.” Not the 2,000 virtual-reality acquaintances who “like” your life but are very unlikely to do anything about it.
Instead, tell a friend—one of the few whose address you actually know—to head out for a steak they can probably afford, in a neighborhood that’s no longer “up north” but is now very central, and still special.
Center cut, end cut, or chopped, no matter how you slice it, Lindey’s is the place for steak, and from one friend to another: Business is good.
Click here to see our photo slideshow of Lindey's
Lindey’s Prime Steak House
3600 Snelling Ave. N., Arden Hills