One of the seven dining rooms at Bob's Steak and Chop House in Dallas

One of the seven dining rooms at Bob's Steak and Chop House in Dallas

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

So how is Bob's, now that Bob is back?

"Great!" the telephone reservationist at Bob's Steak and Chop House replied. "We're remodeling!"

What? No! The place is a Dallas institution, a seriously old-school steakhouse fully equipped with the rituals and quirks that make these places beloved. In March, when the founder, Bob Sambol, bought the restaurant back after a seven-year absence, I was eager to experience it in all its dingy, wood-paneled glory. What are you changing?

"Well," she said, "I'll let it be a surprise."

So I went to Bob's, fearing midcentury California modern or worse, and pushed through the glazed and reglazed door with a tiny handle into a room that looks like it hasn't been touched in 50 years. So what if Bob's is just 26 years old?

There's still a glass pickle jar on every table, along with a cannonball of bread hot from the oven and a slab of butter the size of a stack of playing cards. The decor still runs to horse-racing memorabilia, gilt-edged mirrors and windowless walls accented with dark wood. The bow-tied servers, and now Sambol himself, still patrol the sprawl of seven separate dining rooms.

I get seated at a table in, oh, Plano maybe. But the particular crackle of steakhouse energy is here too, and the blue cheese salad makes a fine introduction, served on a plate so cold it collects condensation in the air-conditioned room. And the steak, a 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye big enough for two, is magnificent: hot and precisely medium rare, with a delicious crust surrounding beef that almost pops with buttery juices.

The bone-in rib eye

The bone-in rib eye

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

The legendary carrot is there too, at a size so shocking it borders on rude, so I take it home to measure it. (If you're wondering, it's 2 by 5 inches. A very big carrot.) On the way out, we brush past Sambol in the bar, who murmurs, "Thanks for coming," without quite making eye contact.

The carrot in question: It's 2 inches by 5 inches.

The carrot in question: It's 2 inches by 5 inches.

Staff Photographer/Michalene Busico

If anything has changed, it is blessedly undetectable. Even a couple of Bob's regulars, who join me for dinner a week later, notice nothing buffed up or different. Which is what you hope for: The joy of an old-school steakhouse lies as much in the quality of the beef as the timelessness of the room, the practiced professionalism of the service, the familiar comfort of its rituals, the million tiny details that give the place actual character. A quality that, no matter how fabulous a modern steakhouse can be, remains out of its reach.

There is a sweet spot at Bob's, too, and it starts when you snag a table in the front dining room, order the right things on the menu and suss out the interesting bottles on the generally predictable wine list.

The Bob's martini

The Bob's martini

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

For a night like that, you'll want to start with martinis at the bar (and unless you really love olive brine, skip the Dirty Bob in favor of a classic). Forget shaken or stirred: Here the gin (and maybe vermouth) is poured into a mixing glass, where the ice is attacked with a spoon until the booze is super-chilled and capped with an ice floe. "It dilutes the drink less," a barman told us, plus all that chipping makes a huge racket — a siren call to martini drinkers.

Among the starters, the jumbo shrimp cocktail was one of the best, with four firm, fresh shrimp lounging beside a pool of cocktail sauce brightened with shavings of horseradish. The wedge salad is a beauty, with the cold, clean hunk of iceberg lettuce completely covered by that great blue cheese dressing and crumbled bacon, plus a couple of tomato slices on the side.

Jumbo shrimp cocktail

Jumbo shrimp cocktail

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

If you're looking for something rich, there is a new appetizer on the menu: two thick slabs of Nueske's bacon, weighing a total of a half a pound, seared and served with a sweet whiskey sauce. It's like a death wish to order this before a steak, but a bite or two is pretty hard to resist. And if you need to rationalize, Bob's also offers four lamb chops with Gorgonzola sauce and onion rings as an appetizer, making this health food in comparison.

Other starters don't hold up as well. You'll hunt for the crab in the bready crab cakes. The Chop House salad is boring, despite being a namesake dish. And the chopped tomato salad, swimming in vinaigrette with raw onion and cubes of mozzarella, is just strange. Onion rings look amazing stacked up like battered and fried life preservers, but the coating is damp and the onion still raw.

But those steaks. They were fabulous every time — still prime beef from Stock Yards packing in Chicago, the same source the restaurant has used since it opened. And still simply salted and peppered, broiled and drenched with melted butter.

The 32-ounce,  dry-aged tomahawk rib chop

The 32-ounce,  dry-aged tomahawk rib chop

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

In addition to the standard cuts, there is a spectacular steak on the specialty menu: A 40-day dry-aged tomahawk rib chop from Nebraska that weighs in at 32 ounces and is cooked on a bone that puts the carrot to shame (18 inches, give or take). It has the complex mineral funk and dense, grained texture that comes with dry aging, and if its $125 price tag fits your steakhouse splurge, you should go for it.

The veal porterhouse chop, a Bob's classic, is an impressive alternative to beef, with the creaminess of veal plus a distinct beefy flavor. The rack of lamb also makes a good change of pace. But the duck, a half-bird covered in brackish green-peppercorn sauce, is dry and gamy. And the lobster tail -- from South Africa, the menu brags — is just as pointless as any frozen lobster tail.

There is no real knockout dessert, but under its too-thick burnt-sugar shell, the crème brûlée custard is very good. The carrot cake, which is really more of a spice layer cake with cream cheese frosting and chopped walnuts, is also a pretty good ending.

I had wanted to ask Sambol about all the idiosyncrasies, but he never did stop by our table, or anyone else's, when I was there. He hangs out in the bar, or on the edge of the dining rooms. A little more Bob would have been welcome.

I gave him a call later on, and he told me the inspiration for the pickle jar was the one his mother always kept on the kitchen table. The giant carrot is her recipe for tzimmes, the classic Jewish braised carrot, with brown sugar and orange juice. He decided to add a potato and the carrot to the price of a steak back in 1993, when he and his then-partner, Dale Wamstad, took over the original Del Frisco's space. It just seemed ungenerous to serve a steak a la carte.

Bob Sambol

Bob Sambol

Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer

These family dishes are now standards in Bob's around the country — which, through more twists and turns than we can cover here, is now a 15-restaurant chain and partly owned by Omni Hotels.

The actual Bob is involved only in the original on Lemmon Avenue, where give or take a new light fixture or carpeting, things are about the same as they ever were.

"Really, I'm just a licensee," Sambol says. "But I'm Bob and they can never take that away from me."

Bob's Steak and Chop House

Rating: Two and a half stars

Price: $$$ (starters $8 to $25; mains $30 to $62; specialty steaks and seafood $65 to $125; desserts $3 to $12)

Service: Practiced and professional, like docents maintaining a Dallas institution

Ambience: After a seven-year absence, founder Bob Sambol bought back his old-school steakhouse with the original quirks intact. The pickle jar on every table, the giant glazed carrot that comes with every steak, the martini with an ice floe on top — it's all still here, along with spectacular cuts of beef from Stock Yards packing in Chicago, the same source as when Sambol opened the place on Lemmon Avenue 26 years ago. There's been some spiffing up, but good luck spotting the changes.

Noise: Shouty (74 decibels)

Drinks: Wine list as checklist: You've got your steakhouse reds (Napa Valley cabs, cult wines, burly pinot noirs, etc.), trophy Champagnes, sparkling wines and unadventurous whites. Values can be found throughout, such as 2014 Quinta do Crasto Old Vines Reserva from Portugal's Douro region ($75) and 2010 Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva Rioja ($59). Purists will scoff at the cocktails, but Bob's ice-flecked martini and fruity Old-Fashioned have a certain appeal.

Recommended: Jumbo shrimp cocktail, wedge salad, côte de boeuf bone-in rib-eye, dry-aged tomahawk rib chop, veal porterhouse chop, rack of lamb, classic martini

GPS: Well-spaced tables and a good energy carry throughout the warren of seven — seven! — dining rooms. But no question, the front room near the bar is the place to be. Call ahead and request it.

Address: 4300 Lemmon Ave., Dallas; 214-528-9446; bobs-steakandchop.com

Hours: Monday-Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Health department score: A (93, March)

Access: Bar and most dining rooms are on one level.

Parking: Valet parking $5

Ratings Legend

4 stars: Extraordinary (First-rate on every level; a benchmark dining experience)

3 stars: Excellent (A destination restaurant and leader on the DFW food scene)

2 stars: Very Good (Strong concept and generally strong execution)

1 star: Good (Has merit, but limited ambition or spotty execution)

No stars: Poor (Not recommended)

Noise Levels

Below 60: Quiet. Maybe too quiet.

60-69: Easy listening. Normal conversation, with a light background buzz.

70-79: Shouty. Conversation is possible, but only with raised voices.

80-85: Loud. Can you hear me now? Probably not.

86-plus: Tarmac at DFW.

Prices

Average dinner per person.

$ -- $19 and under

$$ -- $20 to $50

$$$ -- $50 to $99

$$$$ -- $100 and over

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