It was an ambitious goal for the string of popular P. J. Whelihan’s pubs to depart from its successful formula of $7 burgers and $3 beers to open the ChopHouse, an upscale steak house serving $35 steaks and $12 martinis—and in the middle-class Camden County town of Gibbsboro, no less. But judging from the scene on weekends, when the parking lot is full of Mercedes, BMWs, and Lexus SUVs, when it’s tough to get a table without a reservation or even a bar stool, the ChopHouse has proven that if you build a first-rate steak house, they will come—families, singles, and expense-accounters alike from nearby Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Medford, and Haddonfield.
General manager Chris Webb and his uncle, owner Bob Platzer, preside over this classy, mission-style restaurant overlooking Paintworks Lake, with a view that is deceptively tranquil for the busy corner it occupies. The design of the dining room, featuring an open kitchen, lots of windows, and wood and brick accents, creates a warm atmosphere that never feels stuffy. The service for the most part measures up, with an exceptional waiter on one visit who fusses just enough to make me feel like I’m a guest in his home.
The martini menu is fun to explore, especially the smooth Effen Blue, made with nothing besides that top-shelf vodka and a skewer of three blue-cheese stuffed olives. I also recommend the Insane, a refreshing vodka martini made with watermelon, orange juice, and a squeeze of lime.
Premium steaks are the calling card of this restaurant, under executive chef Markese Beverly, 29, formerly with Capital Grille corporate and the Gatehouse in Providence, Rhode Island. But the menu offers plenty of other standouts. For appetizers, I’m most impressed with the crab puffs—tasty mounds of jumbo lump crabmeat held together with a light béchamel, deep-fried to a crispy golden brown, and served with a homemade tartar sauce. The clams Casino and the fried calamari, both served with a spicy pepper relish, are well-executed. But I’m less enamored with the tough and chewy cold lobster appetizer, made with a Thai chili aioli and served in a martini glass.
The filet mignon, tender, juicy, and bursting with flavor from the first bite, does not disappoint, and its accompanying Maytag blue cheese demi-glace adds just enough bite to keep things interesting. Also recommended is the New York sirloin, 14 ounces of succulent red meat with just enough seasoning to form a slight salty crust under the broiler. The veal chop, too, is mouthwateringly tender and flavorful. But the Cajun pork chop is dry and overcooked, and even a Jack Daniels barbecue sauce and mashed sweet potatoes can’t rescue it. The crispy black bass, simply sautéed in butter and served over mashed potatoes, is superb, as is the grilled wild Tazmanian king salmon, a delicious fish with a smooth and creamy texture, nicely finished with a light béarnaise sauce.
Pricey as the entrées are—$24 to $39—most are served à la carte, so ordering side dishes can run up the bill considerably. But at least you’re not stuck with a boring mixed-vegetable sauté on every plate. The haricots verts in brown butter sauce are a favorite, along with the crisp onion straws and the roasted mushrooms with a splash of sherry.
If you can manage dessert, skip the pedestrian brownie with ice cream and opt for the Key lime pie, although the filling is much better than the thick, hard crust. The brioche bread pudding is comforting and gets a real kick from the Maker’s Mark caramel sauce, which pools on the plate with the crème anglaise topping. The classic crème brûlée is sublime.
Reviewed in: May 2006Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Seafood - Steaks
Ambience:Handsome and warm
Wine list:Terrific reds