Grill your own at newly reopened Tacoma steakhouse
It’s a cocktail bar with a menu straight out of grandma’s holiday party.
It a DIY restaurant where diners cook their own steaks.
It has more vintage lamps and black-velvet paintings than any bar I’ve visited in Tacoma.
And now it’s relocated to the Hilltop neighborhood.
Zodiac Supper Club opened in July 2015 in the St. Helens neighborhood.
Then a pipe broke one year ago this week.
“We didn’t have damage to our belongings, but the building itself had extensive water damage,” said Dana Claar Verellen, who co-owns the restaurant with husband Dave and business partner Suzanne Ramon.
Opting not to wait out the time line of extensive repairs, they relocated.
Sept. 30, the restaurant officially reopened in its new home, thanks to a real estate tip from Robbie and Justin Peterson, co-owners of nearby Eleven Eleven.
The brothers alerted the Verellens that the space next door to the newer Red Elm Cafe was available.
The Hilltop was one of few neighborhoods the Verellens considered relocating to.
“I was heartbroken to leave,” said Verellen of St. Helens. She said the Hilltop neighborhood shares some of the same characteristics they appreciated about their original neighborhood: The density of businesses, foot traffic, the interesting bones of a good, old building.
The shapes of both spaces were quite different, though. The St. Helens location held nooks and crannies while the Hilltop location was long and narrow with a soaring ceiling.
Lamps came to the rescue.
Verellen and her partners pulled all the dangling vintage glass and mineral oil lamps from the old location and hung them lower in the new location, giving something closer to the cozy, funky feeling of the St. Helens space.
The food is the same concept as the original Zodiac Supper Club: Cook-your-own steaks served with salad and garlic bread that diners also grill themselves. A communal grilling station is at the front of the dining room.
The rest of the menu reads like your grandma’s pinochle gathering: onion dip, pimento dip, potato salad. The cocktails also come with a tinge of tiki culture with shareable punch bowls and a mai tai.
The dinner-only restaurant harkens to Dana Verellen’s childhood in San Diego. She’s a third-generation restaurant owner whose family owned restaurants from the 1950s to the 1980s in San Diego, which is home to multiple grill-your-own steak supper clubs.
She always imagined herself opening something like them.
“The Turf Club, that’s the oldest one. You would see people your grandparent’s age or people who just turned 21 and everyone in between,” said Verellen. “That’s exactly what we want and what we’re accomplishing pretty well. It’s important to us to not make it feel you’re not cool enough to be here. You can bring your parents and grandparents.”
On Sunday, a diner brought his mother in.
“She’s in her late 70s. She had some beer and chips and dips with the younger crowd. That’s what I love. When I see that, I think, ‘We’re nailing this,’” Verellen said.
Here’s the lowdown on the newly reopened business:
The space: Vintage curiosities from thrift stores and “found” items gifted from friends fill the walls and corners.
Multiple versions of that Venus mineral lamp your mom had hanging in the rec room in 1964 hang from the ceiling in the long space.
Booths flank the wall opposite a long bar. Big tables with cushy chairs on casters are up front.
Kitschy black-velvet artwork cover most of the rear wall, and there’s also funky artwork from Verellen’s best friend, artist Jackie Dunn Smith.
Those who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s will especially love it.
“There’s a sense of familiarity with some of the treasures that are in there. The lamps and art and tchotchkes,” said Verellen.
About the space: Verellen said the restaurant is intentionally designed for conversation. The old-school jukebox plays in the background, the volume never rising to levels too loud or obnoxious. The television plays movies of their choosing, not televised sports.
The menu: 16-ounce bone-in ribeye ($26), 12-ounce T-bone ($20), 10-ounce New York strip ($19), 9-ounce flat iron ($13), 6-ounce sirloin ($12). All include salad and grill-your-own garlic bread. Grill-your-own hot link ($7), chicken sausage ($7), steak skewer ($9), mushroom or veggie skewer ($6) or kielbasa rope ($15). Dinner ($8), wedge ($7) or side salad ($4). Garlic mashed potatoes ($6) and two kinds of potato salad ($6 each). Pimento cheese ball or house-made onion dip ($5 each).
Those steaks: Olympia-based TriCity Meats supplies the steak. Verellen said because they use a local meat supplier, they can tell diners who want to know where the beef was raised.
Don’t know how to cook? Don’t worry. Staff members will walk first-timers through it. Staffers carry meat thermometers. No cross contamination worries here: Clean tongs are in abundant supply and steaks arrive with second clean plates for the finished product. The grill also was spotless. The hottest spots were toward the center of the gas grill, naturally, but the outer layer of the grill also held plenty of heat.
Verellen said they’ve been surprised to pick up one demographic that sometimes feels shunned at other steak houses: the well-done crowd.
Serve-yourself condiments: There’s Montreal steak seasoning and other flavor additions (including a $2 add-on rub), but also every steak sauce and condiment you can imagine that goes with steak: Worcestershire, mustards, Crystal steak sauce, A-1, hot sauces.
Must orders: Well-priced New York strip ($19) and flat iron ($13) arrived ready for the grill. A few shakes of Montreal seasoning were all that was needed. A pimento cheese ball was creamy and flanked by sturdy pretzels for dredging ($5). House-made onion dip tasted creamy and cool and served as grandma always likes it, with wavy potato chips ($5). Drink a mai tai with dark rum, overproof, orgeat and citrus ($10).
Zodiac Supper Club
Where: 1116 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Tacoma.
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.
Note: 21 and older only.