Upon initial examination, and to a certain mindset, the interior of Mr. Peeples looks like a cruise ship somehow beached itself and vomited up its first class dining room onto the Las Vegas strip. There are elements of both to be found in the restaurant—the type of excesses normally found in these gaudy environments—but Mr. Peeples is neither housed in a Carnival cruiser nor in Las Vegas. It's in Midtown. Naturally.
Look, I like Midtown. I used to live there, and not very long ago. I appreciate its pedestrian-friendly layout, the density, the proximity to downtown and Montrose, the ease with which you can glide between bars, restaurants, hookah lounges, and frozen yogurt shops. But Midtown can also be tacky. Frat bros in backwards hats hoot and holler from the patio of Christian's Tailgate or the Front Porch Pub as women in bandage dresses and Brazilian blowouts teeter past precariously on platform heels that make their legs unsteady and coltish. Saturday nights are a savannah rich with game and danger around every corner, as drunks try not to fall from the balcony at Dogwood and men scoop up trophies from Little Woodrows to take home and bed.
This is precisely what I expected to find during my visit to Mr. Peeples. I was prepared for the night like other women get prepared for a Real Housewives marathon. And at first glance through its doormanned entrance, I thought Mr. Peeples would live up to all my expectations. It did not. And that's where things got interesting.
Make no mistake: Mr. Peeples (styled on its marquee as "Mr. Peeples | Seafood * Steak * Style") is tacky and ridiculous. In an interview with CultureMap, owner Lucky Chopra told Eric Sandler the name alone "is as unique as the urban chic design fantasia of the restaurant itself, intended to be memorable while stimulating one’s imagination and breaking down the walls of traditional steakhouse names." What does that even mean? We are living in nonsense times. And it turns out Mr. Peeples is the steakhouse for those times, managing to straddle a line between insanity and competence that makes it oddly compelling.
Here's a list of 10 reasons I think you should eat there, in no particular order:
1. You enjoy dramaturgy and existentialism. The hostess stands at Mr. Peeples are sculptures of bizarrely huge Thalia and Melpomene masks (a.k.a. those happy/sad masks you see on every high school drama department's playbill). They are so out of place as to be mystifying, and you will spend at least a portion of your meal contemplating their existence.
2. You do not want to play billiards, but you want to look at a billiards table. You're not here to play pool, man! You're here to eat steak and to style! That's why there's a giant pool table (inexplicably covered in graffiti, as is much of the rest of the restaurant) but no pool cues or even billiards balls. Just right as you walk in, right in the middle of the main dining room. Right there for you to stare at as you eat your steak.
3. You do not like your DJs to play music. Mr. Peeples has you covered, with the smart addition of a pretty woman in very high heels and expensive headphones who stands at a DJ booth (which overlooks the no-playing-no-touching pool table) but does not actually do any DJing. As with the pool table and the drama masks, her presence is maddeningly mystifying.
4. You like a good Hemingway daiquiri. No joke here. This was a solid cocktail, and at a reasonable price.
5. You like a good wine list. Again, no joke. It's a little heavy on Cabernet Sauvignon, as one would expect at steakhouse in Texas, but has a decent split between Old and New World wines—and at shockingly decent prices. My buddy and I split a nice bottle of Rhone for $99 (the same bottle goes for $115 at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse), and the by the glass selection was thoughtful if limited. Even the beer list was better than expected (albeit dominated by Silver Eagle products).
6. You like good service. Our server, a young kid named Eric, was already at the top of his game. Kid, if you're reading this, please stay in the industry—restaurants need serious professional servers like you, and you can make a killing at it. Similarly, Mr. Peeples's manager glided through the restaurant checking on tables with just the right balance of charm and restrained attentiveness. Every server and food runner who I encountered that night was, in fact, utterly charming.
7. You are still in search of that one restaurant that serves Lobster Thermidor. Though I didn't spy them on the menu, I was also on the lookout for Steak Diane and Cherries Jubilee. Mr. Peeples's menu is a baffling mix of old-school dishes and modern techniques that definitely do not always play well together. I can tell you right now that I would have hated the "jumbo lump crab-stuffed quail with truffled mashed potatoes and beef jerky cream sauce." I am not a masochist, so I didn't order it. I similarly steered clear of the escargot "petit fores" (sic) and risotto with "vanilla poached lobster claws."
8. You like Guy Fieri. Someone—I don't know who—stood in the dining room staring at a TV most of the evening clad in baggy chef pants with a red, yellow, and black fire pattern blazing all the way down to his battered clogs, posing and looking around every so often to see if the diners were appreciating his presence. He could have been a rogue line cook. He could have been the executive chef. All I know is that I appreciated his Fieri-spiked hair, Fieri-inspired pants, and Fieri-esque attitude of, "Regard me! Regard me as the rock star chef I am!"
9. You like chandeliers. They are everywhere here. There are chandeliers in the bar. There are chandeliers in the private dining room where 13 year olds spilled out of a bumping bar mitzvah on Saturday night. There are chandeliers in the semi-private booths that are decked out in black velvet and neon pink, buttressed by chairs in a pattern best described as "early 90s movie theater carpet." There might even be chandeliers in the individual bathroom stalls. Nothing says fancy like a chandelier.
10. You like a good steak. The meat of the matter, so to speak, is that regardless of how plainly silly Mr. Peeples is, the food is legit. My ribeye was cooked to a beautiful Pittsburgh blue at my request, with a disgustingly excellent char on the outside that was thick and rugged and glorious and put many other steaks I've had recently to shame. My buddy's tomahawk ribeye was even better; his medium-rare steak melted on my tongue like butter. Our crabcakes were solid. Our campechana was huge, spilling over with large hunks of fresh lobster, crab, and avocado in a tangy tomato sauce. My haricots verts were lightly crunchy, with a hint of garlic butter. The only miss was my friend's chipotle macaroni and cheese, which could have benefitted from a correct béchamel sauce (instead the pasta appeared to have been boiled and then tossed with shredded cheese). Even dessert—a play on a deconstructed Snickers bar—was good.
In its way, Mr. Peeples succeeds by offering a unique steakhouse experience—something that's tough to do in a steakhouse-saturated town like Houston. It's difficult to say whether or not I'd return; you don't really watch a David Lynch movie twice, so to speak. But would I recommend it to anyone tired of staid steakhouses that don't offer crazy chandeliers, prop billiards tables, and fake DJs? Absolutely.