What is a Chophouse?

This post will make more sense when combined with one that will be published later this week. But I do have to set some measure of  groundwork, at least from a historical perspective.

When doing a quick search on the Internet, it quickly becomes apparent that the idea of a “chophouse” is seen as the exact same way as a “steakhouse”. This may be true from a modern, current-day perspective. However, historically speaking the two are not the same. Similar, yes. The same? Not quite.

Before we get much further, let me pull out an old definition of chophouse, from The Royal English dictionary, published in 1763:

..a kind of cook’s shop, where meat is ready dressed, so called from their dealing mostly in mutton chops.

So, yes, it was, at it’s heart, a meat shop, and yes, it was a distinctly British idea. But remember, the idea of a restaurant was still about twenty years away by this point. So the question becomes – what makes a chophouse not a restaurant?

Two things, primarily. For one, the menu – it never changed, and it rarely expanded beyond a cook cut of meat or two. Yes, sides of bread, cheese,broth,  and other similar products could and would be sold, and a drink might be available. But for the most part, the chophouse was known to serve meat and only meat. Think of it as a “restaurant” who only had one item on the menu. one that was served one way and one way only. There would be no option to order it rare one day, and well-done the next.

Secondly, the chophouse was a first-come, first-served type of place, where the customer would sit on a bench next to complete strangers.

All of this is a broad definition, and it needs to be considered that, as with any similar business, the quality varied from the respected to the disgusting.

This is quite different from the idea of the restaurant, where a person would sit at their own table, could choose from a variety of options on the menu, have that meal cooked for them specifically, and be attended to by an individual.

So, how does a “steakhouse” fit into this equation? A steakhouse, in today’s parlance, is the old chophouse ideal mixed with the serving philosophy of the restaurant. Historically speaking, a steakhouse is not the same thing as a chophouse, but can trace its roots to the chophouse tradition.  Or, to put it another way: (chophouse)+(restaurant)=steakhouse.

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