St. Elmo’s fire

Never a big drinker, my dad liked to celebrate with copious amounts of dry-aged beef, if not necessarily malted hops. So it only made sense that, when facing what would ultimately prove to be terminal esophageal cancer in his early 50s, he asked to mark the last days before aggressive surgery with a perfect steak. While the request was simple, it was a tough order to fill. Certainly, this was a guy who had seen his share of prime beef. Like most farm-bred kids of his generation, he knew the best way to age and cut meat. Luckily, Indianapolis is a steakhouse town. And in the best-steak-of-your-lives category, we are blessed with one of the top dogs.

So, I pitched to my dad that we’d like to take him to St. Elmo’s, the historic downtown Indianapolis joint named, oddly enough in its land-locked locale, after the patron saint of the sailors. With his health failing, I was unsure as to how the night might go. But when the appointed day arrived, he was ready and we packed the family, then consisting of us and a 3-year-old, and headed to the venerable eatery. It couldn’t have gone better. The fire-seared entrees, as always, exceeded expectations. But mostly, the restaurant provided the perfect backdrop – at once imminently comfortable and enormously distinct. The grand old dame rose to the occasion. The laughter seemed sweeter and the camaraderie more affectionate.

Today, St. Elmo’s bi-annually receives a visit from us and our now 16 year-old with his 11-year-old brother. Sadly, Dad never recovered from his illness and died within the year. But with each ensuing call, St. Elmo’s welcomes us with robust laughter and perhaps a tear that we eagerly blame on the fiery cocktail sauce. Sometimes place matters. And for us, this is the place.