By Cynthia McFarland • Photography By John Jernigan
Opened in November 2002, Mark’s U.S. Prime is owned and operated by partners Billy Scheel, Randy McCoy, Louis Saig, and Jeff Roth. None of these gentlemen are strangers to successful restaurant ventures, but this is their crowning achievement, a showcase restaurant that combines quality with sophistication in a most memorable way.
Conveniently located in Gainesville’s vibrant downtown, just a short block from the Hippodrome State Theater, Mark’s U.S. Prime is ideal for an evening out with friends or that special someone. Celebrations are a routine occurrence here.
Settling into the wooden booth with its comfortable upholstered seating and subtle lighting, I scan the leather-bound menu and quickly get the feeling this is not a going-to-be-hurried meal. Over two hours later, I realize that my first impressions were accurate. This is all about dining, not to be confused with simply eating out. You can do that at many restaurants. At Mark’s U.S. Prime, the wine, the food, the service, and the atmosphere are all conducive to an experience worth savoring.
“We’re proud of being the most upscale restaurant in Gainesville,” notes Managing Partner Jay Anneaux. “We deliver the service and a quality product that is second to none.”
Chef Bennett Depew hails from Chicago and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the “back of the house.” This is evident in the variety of creations that come out of the kitchen.
As the name implies, Mark’s U.S. Prime serves only USDA prime, the highest quality meat on the market. Yes, you will find other items on the menu, but truly, this establishment is known for its steaks.
“We’re a steak house,” says Jay unabashedly, “and we want our steak to speak for itself.”
The Starter Collection
Yes, the focus is on steak, but you don’t have to jump right to the main course. Let the appetizer selections start your meal in a most pleasant way. You’ll find plump, colossal shrimp prepared with a light coconut breading and served with an orange ginger sauce or presented over ice with a perfectly spiced cocktail sauce.
The jumbo lump crab cake with a delicate wine and pink peppercorn sauce is a sure winner. One waiter says he likes to order this on the side with his steak, (a unique version of “surf and turf”), and after sampling it, we could certainly understand why.
Crab also makes an appearance in a lovely crab bisque, and in the form of Blue Crab claws sautéed in a rich broth of butter, garlic and white wine. (Is there anything that doesn’t taste heavenly when combined with those three magical ingredients?) Grilled Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms and lightly fried Alligator Tail are also available.
Our hands-down favorite appetizer was the Seared Ahi Tuna with peppercorn crust, served in thin slices with an Asian slaw and tangy ginger mustard and sake sauce. Robyn Barnett, a longtime friend, sushi expert, and trusted “meal evaluator,” gave this starter her highest praise. “You couldn’t go to a Japanese steakhouse and find any better,” she notes. “This is the best I’ve had.”
There are four salad choices and all dressings are made in-house. We couldn’t decide on just one favorite salad, but narrowed it down to the Original Blue and the Sliced Tomato & Onion. A fresh mix of spring greens lays the foundation for the Original Blue, which takes its name from the restaurant’s own special bleu cheese dressing, filled with serious chunks of bleu cheese. Granny Smith apples, red onions, dried cranberries, almonds, and red pepper all combine for truly excellent house salad.
A perfectly ripe Beefsteak tomato crowned with bleu cheese crumbles rests on a bed of red onion and herb vinaigrette. One bite and we decided the name for this salad is far too humble for its fresh-from-the-garden taste. This salad is like the essence of summer. I knew I should be saving room for the steak to come, but I couldn’t resist finishing this one.
Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner
I’m sure many patrons come to Mark’s U.S. Prime and order something other than beef. After dining here, though, I’m not really sure why. From the Filet Mignon (8 or 12 ounces), the New York Strip, the Bleu Cheese Encrusted Sirloin, the hearty 16-ounce Delmonico, or the huge 20-ounce Bone in Ribeye, this is beef at its best.
“Melt-in-your-mouth” is a phrase used far too often, but it’s challenging to think of another way to describe the utterly tender filet. The full flavor of the ribeye, also especially tender, was superb. Patrons are given weighty silver steak knives prior to the entrée’s arrival, but our steaks could easily have been cut with a butter knife, or even the side of a fork. All steaks are cooked over a pecan-hickory wood grill and served sizzling in butter on scorching plates. To keep the meat warm throughout your meal, plates come to the table at about 450 degrees. You can specify no butter, or extra, as you prefer.
For the guest who wants something other than USDA Prime beef, the menu doesn’t lack options. You’ll find grilled Twin Lamb Chops, Wood Grilled Salmon Filet, a Porterhouse Pork Chop, Crab Cakes (just like the tasty appetizer, but more of it), Wood Grilled Chicken Breast, Crab Stuffed Shrimp, Wood Grilled Sea Scallops, and Australian Cold Water Lobster Tail.
Two fish entrees definitely worth considering include the popular Grouper Santa Fe, a fresh filet topped with mango salsa and jumbo crab meat, and the Bronzed Grouper, pan seared with a light Cajun seasoning and served with lemon butter sauce. Ahi Tuna fans will want to take note of the award-winning Pistachio Tuna, which is accompanied by chipotle honey.
Although the side dishes are ordered separately, portions are more than ample and made for sharing. We raved over the creamed spinach, fresh asparagus, sautéed wild mushrooms, and mashed potatoes.
Robyn and I tried valiantly to save enough room to do justice to the dessert menu, but this proved a difficult task. Until the desserts actually arrived, that is. Then, magically, we suddenly found room once we saw these delectable creations, all homemade, of course.
Never shy when it comes to sweet finales, we managed to sample all four desserts, starting with the Chocolate Paradise. Rich chocolate mousse is presented in an Oreo-Kahlua crust over a blanket of Hazelnut cream, raspberry and toasted almonds. Sheer decadence!
The Key Lime Cheesecake has a unique ginger crust and marries sublimely with a raspberry puree. We oohed and aahed over the Crème Brulee with its fresh berries and a delicate crust that melts on the tongue. But our absolute favorite was the frosty fruit sorbet. The chef creates different flavors of sorbet, depending on the season, and on the night we visited, raspberry was the star. Topped with a Chantilly sauce and more fresh berries, this creamy sorbet won our hearts with its light, but wholly satisfying flavor. Fresh berries sparkling in cream sauce were the perfect embellishment. All desserts are generously sized for sharing.
There is also an innovative selection of dessert martinis that proves one doesn’t need fork or spoon to indulge in something sweet after dinner. In addition to traditional espresso and cappuccino, the Uptown Coffee makes a delightful epilogue to a lingering meal. In this dessert-worthy beverage, coffee plays host to Bailey’s, Frangelico, Dark Crème de Cocoa, and a frothy tiara of cream and cinnamon.
As we left the restaurant, the sidewalks of Gainesville’s downtown were still bustling. The location definitely encourages a walk before or after your meal, and with the historic Hippodrome just around the corner, Mark’s U.S. Prime is perfect for dinner before an evening theatre production.
The partners behind Mark’s U.S. Prime clearly know a thing or two about fine dining. More importantly, they have built a menu and brought together a staff that knows how to deliver the goods in style. In this case, prime obviously refers to much more than just the beef.
Mark’s U.S. Prime
201 S.E. 2nd Avenue, Suite 102
Gainesville, FL 32601
Friday & Saturday: 5-11pm
Did You Know?
• Approximately 600 bottles of wine are in stock at any given time.
• The Wall of Wine holds almost 200 bottles alone.
• Mark’s U.S. Prime just received the noted Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.
• The waiters are well-versed in suggesting wine pairings for the various starters, entrees, and desserts.
With the Hippodrome literally just down the street from Mark’s U.S. Prime, it makes sense for the short drive to Gainesville to last all night. May we suggest dinner and a show afterward? Here are the main productions for the season to come:
Nov. 27-Dec. 19 A Christmas Carol
Nov. 27-Dec. 19 A Tuna Christmas
Jan. 7-30 2 Pianos, 4 Hands
Feb. 25-Mar. 20 Our Town
Apr. 15-May 8 Anna in the Tropics
June 3-26 A Summer Musical
A Prime Location
By Cynthia McFarland • Photography By John Jernigan