Sitting in St. Elmo Steak House in downtown Indianapolis, I was trying to convince my friend that electricity had something to do with the establishment’s name. “No, no” said my dining companion. “St. Elmo is the patron saint of sailors.” Hummm.
Searching the dim corners of my memory, I recalled the explanation of a phenomena called St. Elmo’s fire in the 1980s brat pack movie of the same title. It had something to do with dark skies, ships and saintly deeds spurred by cracks of lightening.
The bow-tied waiter arrived with my shrimp cocktail. “It happens during a thunderstorm,” he said.
“But what is it?” I asked.
“Well, I dunno exactly, but it lights stuff up,” said the waiter.
I was itching to get to the bottom of it. This century-old, bourbon-and-beef style eatery was steeped in history. JFK ate here, so did Clark Gable, Jack Dempsey, Joe Lewis and Rocky Marciano. Chances are they didn’t know what St. Elmo’s fire was either.
Surfing the web later that night, I found this description: “Electrical weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created via a coronal discharge from a grounded object in an atmospheric electric field.” When the ground below a storm is electrically charged, the air between the cloud and the ground contains a high voltage that tears apart air molecules and makes the Earth’s atmospheric gases become fluourescent. It’s similar to what makes neon lights glow.
When sailors saw ships throbbing with blue or violet light it must have seemed like a mystical message from god – or mind-blowing hint to go easy on the rum.
At St. Elmo Steak House, the fire arrived in a small silver dish without a hint of thunder. Dainty pink crustaceans lay atop a scoop of cocktail sauce, lemon on the side. I squeezed the lemon, slathered a shrimp generously and popped it into my mouth. Argh! I reached for the water and just barely managed to douse the flames in my throat. Just then, our waiter floated by.
“The horseradish is ground fresh in the kitchen daily. The guy wears a mask to protect himself from the fumes,” he said, smiling as I wiped my eyes.
Luckily my taste buds had cooled by the time my steak arrived. I like my meat medium rare but the waiter warned me to round up. “If you like it just barely warm in the middle, order medium rare. Go for medium if you like it cooked a bit more.”
The 10 oz, two-inch think filet, cooked medium, was tender as butter, red and juicy inside and nicely charred on the outside. It came with tomato juice and a baked potato, sour cream on the side. I could have opted for house-cut fries or redskin mashed potatoes but decided to stay with my old school favorite.
What a meal! The beef grounded me, but all I had to do was think about that sauce and my face started glowing bright red. St. Elmo, you don’t need electricity just some freshly grated horseradish.
St. Elmo Steak House
127 South Illinois Street
Indianapolis, IN 46225