I walked into Monte’s Steak and Seafood (located in The Quarter, off Lakeland Drive) at about 12:45 on a Thursday, and Chef Monte himself greeted me. “We’re glad you’re here,” he told me. The personal attention didn’t stop with the greeting, either; in addition to preparing my meal, he was my server, as well.
I quickly discovered how he was able to pull triple duty: I was the only customer. Being the lone diner during the lunch hour on a weekday can send up red flags (“Where is everybody? Do they know something I don’t?”), so I hope this was an anomaly, because my experience was a very enjoyable one. Chef Monte took excellent care of me, making me feel at home with his warm table-side manner and personal attention.
The best way I can think of to describe the atmosphere is “laid-back white tablecloth…ish.” The white tablecloths are covered with the kind of white paper you will find in many chain restaurants that serves as a canvas for the artistic stylings of the under-10 set. (I was actually a little disappointed I wasn’t offered crayons… Kidding! Mostly.) Several of the booths are worn and torn in places, but it’s not to the point that it’s an eyesore. Anyone looking for shiny-new modern decor might be turned off, and that would be a shame. This place is about the food, and it shows.
Appetizer: Chef Monte’s Stuffed Shrimp
This appetizer is one of several items listed under the “Chef’s Recommendations” on Monte’s website. One good measure of a restaurant is to find out how a menu item that it prides itself on actually stacks up. By that measure, Monte’s is doing just fine. This dish was flat-out bursting with flavor. That’s a word that’s going to come back up: this man KNOWS flavor. The dish was swimming in a tangy, buttery bath of Imperial sauce (Chef Monte’s remix of remoulade) and lemon butter sauce.
The only possible negative thing I can think of to say about this dish is that the title is somewhat misleading–on a couple of counts, actually:
1) The shrimp aren’t technically stuffed; they are topped with crab meat.
2) Although the shrimp were flavorful and succulent, the dish is more crab than shrimp, strictly speaking.
I’m going to serve these caveats with a side of “Who frickin’ cares?” Whether the shrimp are stuffed or topped or whether there is more crab or more shrimp is neither here nor there. What matters is the flavor combination, and this one is worthy of the special mention it receives on the Monte’s website. One more note about this app: It was HUGE. Unless you want to ruin your dinner, you’d better plan on sharing this with someone. If you go it alone and aren’t famished, it can be a meal unto itself. The dinner menu offers it as an entrée under its “Platters and Combos” section, and I shudder to think how much food that must be.
To tell the truth, there are very few salads that I get excited about, in general. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a side salad that wowed me with its flavor. I’m not anti-greens; it’s just that I tend to consider a side salad as a sort of “placeholder” menu item. It’s there to keep hungry diners from devouring one another as they await the next course. Monte’s side salad did its job. The flavor was good as far as side salads go, and the ingredients had the right texture. It was a bit heavy on the dressing for my taste (I opted for the Parmesan Pepper), but it wasn’t anything tragic. One thing about this salad that’s worthy of note: it was easily the prettiest side salad I’ve seen in recent memory. It was plated well, and it was topped with sun-dried tomatoes, which I thought was a nice touch, adding to both the presentation and the flavor.
Entrée: Stuffed Catfish
The stuffed shrimp app was so good that I decided to double-stuff myself and go for the stuffed catfish. Prior to this, I had never tried stuffed catfish. (Okay fine; I’d never even HEARD of stuffed catfish.) But it sounded promising.
Trust me, folks; it delivered on the promise. The menu told me to expect a filet of catfish stuffed with crawfish and crabmeat dressing and topped with Cajun crawfish cream and hollandaise. What the menu did NOT tell me is that I should have brought a couple of friends to help me work my way through this entree. The impressive size of the stuffed shrimp app was no fluke; Chef Monte’s generosity with flavor extends to portion size, as well.
I detected no fishiness to the catfish. The crawfish, crabmeat, and sauces worked in concert with the catfish to deliver quite an impressive flavor combination. In addition to the catfish, the plate also held a vegetable medley (green beans, tomatoes, yellow squash, red peppers, and broccoli) which kept its crispness, even while surrounded with sauces. The rest of the plate was taken up with a small mountain of parmesan-covered pasta, which complemented the catfish nicely. Chef Monte also brought out a couple of pieces of French bread, which I tasked with sopping up the sauces that were co-mingling happily on my plate.
Dessert: Chef Monte’s Pie
“Chef Monte’s Pie” is an ice-cream pie with a graham cracker crust. It features layers of chocolate and butterscotch in the middle and a top layer of ice cream. The entire pie is then doused with strawberry and butterscotch sauces. The dessert was simultaneously good and disappointing. Here’s the problem: The pie was just too darn cold. If you’ve ever eaten ice cream that froze your taste buds, you know what I’m talking about. There were tiny, tell-tale ice crystals on top of the pie, and the frigid temperature of the dish detracted somewhat from my enjoyment of it. That’s a shame, because Chef Monte once again delivered on the flavor. It’s possible to serve something frozen that’s not overly frozen, and that’s all this pie needs to take it from “good, but a brain-freeze hazard” to just plain good.
The verdict: If you’re suffering from the widespread malady of chain-restaurant flavor homogenization–or as I like to call it, “The Ruby Chili-bees Effect”–Monte’s Steak and Seafood is the cure for what ails you.
Food: Bursting with flavor. Enough said.
Service: It doesn’t get much better than what I experienced.
Atmosphere: Welcoming and comfortable fine dining experience.
Monte’s Steak and Seafood is open 11 am – 10 pm seven days a week and is located inside of The Quarter shopping center on the south side of Lakeland Drive just before you cross the Pearl River into Flowood.