Welcome to The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Located downtown in the historic and graceful Marion Building, The Metropolitan Grill has been offering up fabulous steaks and amazing service since 1983. This week, Eater interviews Maître d' Craig Summers for a little background and info on how to get a seat in one of the best steakhouses in town. Summers has been part of the Met family for 17 years, in positions ranging from server to Guest Services Manager to his current role as The Man.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you landed at the Met.
I've just about covered every aspect of the restaurant business, excluding cooking. I've bussed, washed dishes, waited tables, run security, managed — really run the whole gamut. My first job in this industry was as a dishwasher at Denny's when I was all of 14 years old, and I spent many years with Red Lion Hotels before coming to the Met. I started waiting tables here in 1995 and, low and behold, 17 years later: a wife, three kids, a house, a few cars and a dog and I'm still here!
Any memorable celebrity sightings?
For me personally, there is no doubt that the highlight of my career here was to be able to wait on former President Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. I served the two of them here. When I stopped and thought about who they were — these two guys alone could change the world! Second to that, I'd have to say my interaction with Kate Hudson, who was cuter than I ever imagined, and really sweet and down to earth. She sat right there, having dinner with a girlfriend, waiting for her boyfriend Alex Rodriguez who was playing for the Yankees against the Mariners that night.
Do you have any crazy guest stories that you can share?
The clincher there is can share. There are a number that come immediately to mind, but all I can say is that one of the beautiful things about dining in a fine restaurant such as this is that discretion is always employed.
What are your most popular menu items?
We sell more filets than anything else—that's our number one selling steak. The iceburg wedge salad is really popular, and we go through more creamed spinach than any other side. Of course, we've added a couple of amazing sides recently, like the lobster creamed corn, which is pretty darned good, and we have brussels sprouts done with bacon and that's a very flavorful dish. And we now have the poblano scalloped potatoes—they totally rock. That's my favorite now! For desserts, the burnt cream and chocolate lava cake are probably the best sellers.
What's a typical meal you eat when you're on the clock?
Our chef, Eric Hellner, has developed a special menu of items specifically for staff to order from. It has a nice array of dishes, and I usually order something from that.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
I like a couple of things. For years, my number one favorite thing was the New York peppercorn steak. I love those! And now, I would say that it's a toss up between the rack of lamb and the 50-ounce long bone ribeye, which I would never eat all by myself. It's so flavorful! It's so huge that it takes 45 minutes to cook on the grill, and when you take one bite it just melts in your mouth. So good!
Where do you like to eat and drink when you're not at work?
I love to go out and dine, but with that said, I don't do it that much. Being in the industry, I covet my alone time and I love being home with my wife and kids. Making a nice, home-cooked meal and having quiet family time at home really makes me happy. When I do go out on a date night with just my wife we like to go to nice, casual, cozy places close to our home in Bothell, like Purple Café and Grazie. But we love to take the kids, so we also see the inside of a lot of Red Robins!
What are some of the challenges you face regularly?
We're a pretty well-oiled machine, and don't have many issues crop up. I'd say that one downfall of our restaurant that comes to mind is that we don't have a big lobby waiting space. That can be a little stressful for the front desk team on a busy night when we have a lot of people waiting in that area. And I suppose the other challenge is the jigsaw puzzle of seating as many people as we can. Any great, seasoned front desk person will keep a table or two in reserve just in case. And if we're at the point that we're so busy that we have to hold back a couple of tables so we have enough seating, that's a great spot to be in!
How did you maintain such a high standard of service?
I'll tell you how I believe we do it. Number one, in any industry the tone is always set at the top, and we have a great owner of this company. And without a doubt, the second most important factor is the people who work here. We call them the front line. Many of the people we have are professional servers who have waited here for 20+ years — and that's just here, they worked somewhere else before joining our team! This is their career, and they take pride in it and want to be the best, dealing with the best clientele that appreciate and respect what they're doing.
What's your most important gatekeeper tool/secret weapon?
I'll give your readers a secret weapon: It's always good to know and love on the Maître d'!
— By Darlin Gray
[Photo: A. Garland / ESEA]