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Woodworking: Who wants to stand up to eat a steak?

I recently read in New York magazine about a new trend in Gotham.

All manner of steakhouses are popping up in Gotham. They're not typical NYC ancient steakhouses like Peter Luger's and O'Connell's...ancient dark and elegant spots, where the steaks are dry-aged and deeply beefy.

The new steakhouses are monuments to our hankering for speed and efficiency. In these new spots, you order your steak, rare, medium and or well-done (ugh). When it';s cooked someone at the grill hollers your name. You step up, get your meat and cutlery. Then you go to a high table which sports condiments.

AND YOU STAND UP AND EAT YOUR STEAK!

What in the world is the hurry? When I eat a steak, I want to sit down and admire the patience it took to cook up a piece of meat and crispy fat that is delicious beyond imagination. I try to forget the price beyond imagination, unless I go to Copper Kettle on T-Bone Tuesday, for a pound of beef that costs little more than a burger and fries. But that's another story.

Such bang for your buck would never happen in New York City except at places like Standup Steaks, where the prices match that of the oldtimers like Peter Luger's.

The story in New York magazine inspired me to think about our restaurants in the hinterlands, where one can gnaw on a barbecued spare rib while walking around the capitol square in Raleigh, N.C, on the 4th of July as Ruth and I did on a memorable day years ago. Or you can attend the Pierce County Fair and lick a cone of icky cotton candy or chew on an alligator filet on a stick at the state fair across the St. Croix River. Unfortunately there's no safe way to eat lutefisk and melted butter while standing up.

And how can I forget that other famous standup: Standup Frank's in northeast Minneapolis? I fell under its spell when I was assigned to do a series of stories about the West Broadway as a neighborhood. I began by getting a haircut on West Broadway. I explained to the barber what I was up to and he said, "You should get over to Frank Stanek's bar near the Eckrich sausage plant."

"Never heard of it."

"Once you get there," said the barber, "you'll never forget it. Be sure to order your drink without ice."

So I was off for a cocktail at Stanek's. As I entered, it looked like the hundreds of taverns in that famous neighborhood. The bar was full of patrons and it was only 10 a.m. All on their feet, as there were no barstools. Everyone was standing, drinking big water glasses of brown liquid. I bellied up, ordered a shot of Jim Beam, no ice. The bartender grabbed a 7-ounce beer glass and filled it with bourbon. As he shoved it my way, he said: "That'll be 90 cents."

"By golly," said I to an off-duty Eckrich employee, who was sipping a similar sized glass of peppermint schnapps. "Yeah," he said, "but years back the drinks were bigger-- -and cheaper!"

He went on to give me the scoop about Standup Frank's, a northeast iconic joint and its traditions. "When the night shift at Eckrich ends, people troop over here at 8 a.m. Frank unlocks the door and lets in enough people to fill the bar, then locks the door and pours everyone a free drink. Then he unlocks the door and lets everyone else in."

I asked him about the "no ice" policy.

"Oh, if you order ice, Franks obliges and charges you 15 cents less, ice being cheaper than liquor."

This led to talk about how the world was going to hell in a handbasket until it was time for the Eckrich employees to file out for home and breakfast. And I headed off to the Star Tribune and invited my officemate, Mary Hart, the regal queen of the midwestern food writers, to a cocktail party in her honor.

"Should I dress?" she asked breathlessly.

Just wear clothes, Mary," I replied.

Where else could I buy her a double martini, her favorite, for 90 cents?

—By Dave Wood

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