If you are a true prime steak and lobster lover, then you already know that the 20-year-old landmark restaurant on Lee Road, synonymous with great steak, has evolved from its old name (Del Frisco’s) to take on the name of Christner’s. The name change is a charming homage to Russ Christner, who opened the restaurant with his wife Carole in 1993. At the time Christner was given a 20-year license to use the name of a famous restaurant in Dallas, and for all of those 20 years, the restaurant was the textbook example of a high-end, special occasion, superior quality steakhouse.
Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster is at 729 Lee Road in Orlando. The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Visit christnersprimesteakandlobster.com or call 407-645-4443.
One of the most welcoming experiences when dining in the ‘clubby’ atmosphere of the red brick walls, dark wood trim and white tablecloths that virtually define this classic (and classy) steakhouse was the fact that Russ Christner – and his wife Carole – seemed to always be there. Few diners came and went without a tableside visit from either or both of them making sure their guests enjoyed a “world class dining experience.” Russ Christner lost his personal battle with cancer in 2005, leaving the ever-charming Carole in charge. Soon, their son David and his wife Alice joined Carole, thereby enhancing the family ties – and making the name change to Christner’s – that much more appropriate.
The thrill for this reviewer was to return to this home of steakhouse glory – under its new name – and tell my readers that the “glory” is all still there, and then some.
I had attended the early June celebration of the name change in which this family-owned business paid homage to their father, reflected on the Christner’s/Del Frisco’s brand, and raised more than $7,000 to benefit the Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute. Happily standing in line for what was – and remains – my favorite appetizer, the crab cake with its perfectly spicy Cajun sauce, I mentally applauded their decision to honor the memory of Russ Christner while maintaining the standards he set.
Returning for a full meal, I was immediately reminded that the superior quality of the food and service also means the restaurant is a special occasion destination, and the general feel – even on a weeknight – is one of celebration. Over the years, the venue has grown into nine private dining rooms, but I still prefer the tufted red leather booths from the original restaurant.
The temptation begins immediately when a simple, but incredibly delicious, loaf of fresh-from-the-oven bread is delivered to your table. Normally – because I know I’ll taste several things – I stay away from the bread service, but this is impossible to pass up. And as you follow the menu’s suggestion and tear off a piece of the bread, take a moment to savor the fresh-baked smell of that special loaf.
From the appetizer choices, we shared the already noted favorite crab cake, famous for its luxuriously all-crab consistency that got divided into bite-size portions to simply extend the pleasure. We also loved the unique taste and preparation of the Shanghai-style calamari, this dish also finding its just-right spicy perfection.
We ordered the lettuce wedge for the sheer joy of tasting all three of Christner’s homemade salad dressings – the chunkiest Bleu Cheese dressing ever known to man; the honey mustard; and the Avocado Goddess. The buttery richness of the Lobster Bisque (called Soup in the menu) is so outrageous that we each got a serious serving of lobster in every chunky bite.
For our main courses, my dining partner ordered the appetizer-size portion of the Seared Tuna, a magnificent sushi-grade tuna – served warm with a surprisingly subtle and tasty wasabi cream sauce. Considering its ample size, I drew the attention of our waiter questioning whether we had been given the dinner portion; only to be assured the dinner portion would be “twice the size” of what we had before us.
My filet mignon, rated U.S.D.A. Choice Plus, was even more tender and more tasteful than I remembered from previous visits, and it reminded me in royal fashion about why this restaurant continues to define what a steakhouse is and can be.
It happened that on the evening we dined there, all three of the owner/restaurateurs — Carole, David and Alice Christner — were in-house. At various times each of the three stopped by the table to make sure everything was to our satisfaction, and we were more than happy to assure them that our meal exceeded expectations.
Beginning with that very special hot bread and continuing with personal touches throughout the meal, the Christner family has built a restaurant that provides meticulous service in a relaxed setting reflecting their own sincerely friendly and caring personalities. Christner’s new name honors its founder not only in name, but by consistently offering some of the finest food you will ever eat in Central Florida.