Q&A with Restaurateur Jeff Mastro of Ocean 44

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In 2014, Jeff Mastro and his brother, Mike, embarked on a barnstorming tour of elite East Coast steakhouses. It had been seven years since the Mastro family sold its namesake chain of high-end restaurants, and the non-compete clause that prohibited them from launching new ventures was off the books. Consequently, the siblings were looking for inspiration to take back home to Arizona. What they discovered, though, was that there was something missing from the stuffy, aging steakhouse template. “We just decided that there’s a whole set of people out there that want to have that great upscale steakhouse dining experience, but in a little bit of a more modern venue,” Jeff Mastro says. “That’s what we did.” Mastro sat down with PHOENIX magazine to chat about what makes a good restaurant tick.

1. What would you say are the hallmarks of a good steakhouse?

“Obviously great food and great service have not changed… I think there’s so many people out there that really like to experience a great steakhouse with a little twist on the food also. So, you have the great steaks, and you can do that twist with some appetizers and some sides and some more interesting items. It’s very important.”

2. Is it weird or surreal to be competing with restaurants – the Mastro’s franchise you sold – that bear your own last name?

“Yeah, it definitely is, but we’re still very proud of that brand… We’re just happy that brand is continuing and we’re out there doing our own new thing at this point.”

Illustration by Mirelle Inglefield
Illustration by Mirelle Inglefield

3. How have dining trends affected your menus?

“That word ‘foodie’ is thrown around a lot. So that’s been a big deal. We’ve developed a lot of really cool appetizers and side dishes and even entrées that are very good-looking… because that’s what people do these days: They take pictures of all their food.”

4. What is your go-to steakhouse order?

“If you’re talking about one of our places, we have this crispy shrimp appetizer, which I love, and my kids love, too. It’s crispy shrimp with this garlic aioli, and it’s just tremendous. We also have this deviled egg with this crispy shrimp on top [and] a little piece of baked Parmesan, which is up there for me. So, I’d get that and then I’d get the New York strip.”

5. What are your personal three favorite cuts of beef and why?

1. New York strip: This loin cut is Mastro’s favorite “by far,” he says. “It’s not the most tender, but I think it’s the most flavorful.”

2. Rib-eye: Butchered from the cattle’s non-load-bearing foreribs, this celebrated cut is“a lot more [of a] marbled or fatty steak, but it also has a lot of flavor.”

3. Filet mignon: Like many carnivorous connoisseurs, Mastro has mixed feelings about beefdom’s Mercedes-Benz cut. “I don’t think it has as much flavor as some of the other cuts, but it’s so tender that you can kind of cut it with a fork.”

6. Your steakhouses are special-occasion destinations for so many people. Where do you go out for a special occasion?

“It depends on the occasion. My son is turning 17 on Friday, and he just wants to go to Grimaldi’s [Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria] with a bunch of friends. So, we love Grimaldi’s. And there’s this little place close to us called Tutti Santi [By Nina] for Italian food that we go to a lot. It’s tremendous.”

7. You recently opened a Steak 48 in Chicago and are opening another in Philadelphia. How did you decide on the name?

“We’re from Arizona most of our lives… We love the state, and Arizona being the 48th state, we started using Steak 48. That’s how we’re growing the steakhouse name outside of Arizona.”

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