Explore the New Frugality with Cheap Steaks—or Live with Chris Farrell and Me on February 17

Do you spend money differently than you did in 2005? For me, the answer is a resounding yes—but that’s largely because I now have two preschoolers and I can enjoy, literally, watching my disposable income get disposed of as I sweep the kitchen and fill dust-pans with organic raisins. In terms of my professional life, however, the world of Twin Cities restaurants is utterly different than it was in 2005. A few trends:

• Most diners seem to have abandoned wholesale the idea of the $30 entrée.
• The big and popular restaurant concepts of the last few years are haute burger joints (Bulldog N.E., Salut, Burger Jones), haute taco joints (the two Barrios), trucks (Chef Shack), gastro-bars (Northeast Social Club, Lyndale Tap House, Victory 44), fish-and-chips spots (Anchor Fish & Chips), or small-plate restaurants (Bar La Grassa).
• Just about every restaurant in town has re-worked its employment structure in some way to combine or eliminate their most expensive salaries (Cosmos, Porter and Frye, Nick and Eddie, Cue versus Sea Change).
• And of course there’s the ongoing experimentation as documented in recent posts of restaurants getting cooks to take on some of the work (and get some of the recompense) that heretofore went to servers.

And yet, frugality is personal. For a lot of people, organic raisins are too expensive compared to conventional ones, but to me, the thought of exposing my little ones to the heavy pesticide load that comes with conventionally grown grapes and raisins is too much to bear, so I forego other expenses to make the money in my life work; for instance, I drive a car with a Blue Book value of a pretty good steak.

Speaking of steak, Patrick Reusse, the sports columnist and AM1500 radio host whom I chat with every other Friday, asked me about the best cheap steaks in the metro. Here are my top-four steaks for frugal gourmets:

• $26 Grilled Rib-Eye at The Strip Club in St. Paul
Why: For my money, Chef J.D. Fratzke and his kitchen team are the best grass-fed beef chefs in town. This rosy, irony, fragrant steak tastes as good as any you’d splurge on at a big-name steakhouse, but you can feel good about it too.

• $22 Flat Iron Steak at Red Stag
Why: You get a nice piece of beef along with the whole new retro supperclub experience—a sexy, dark, clubby atmosphere. And I think the Red Stag does a particularly nice job with their veggies, both in terms of the tasty mashed potatoes and braised greens that come with the steak, but also with the extensive non-steak options. For my money, this is the only place in town to eat a steak right now if your date is a vegetarian.

• $22 Steak Pizzaiola at Il Gatto in Uptown
Why: The charcoal grill at Il Gatto (the new Figlio) is used very well here, and a nice piece of beef is well enhanced by a zesty, concentrated pizzaiola. This gets my vote for the best affordable steak in Uptown/South Minneapolis.

• $22 Hanger Steak at The Kitchen in Stillwater
Why: I love the meaty, irony, slightly livery, intense flavor of hanger steaks. (Hanger steak: a cow’s breathing muscle, or diaphragm; there’s only one per cow and they’re hard to find. They’re often called a ‘butcher’s cut’ in that the butcher would take the steak for himself.) Hanger steaks are not often found on local menus, but The Kitchen’s is excellent, and the side of sweet-potato fries makes this a very generous, filling, delicious plate.

And thus concludes my thoughts for today on the new frugality. Intrigued? Inspired? Then come on down to the UBS Forum on February 17 to see me and Chris Farrell, MPR’s chief economics correspondent and author of the new book The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better, talk about all things frugal. The event will be hosted by Stephen Smith, executive editor of American RadioWorks, and we’ll be joined by Janet Bodnar, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance deputy editor and the author of Raising Money Smart Kids, as well as Kara McGuire, the award-winning personal finance columnist for the Star Tribune.

And if you’ve got any ideas on topics I should explore before the event, post them in the comments. Hope to see you there!