Queenie’s Steakhouse: home to beef, pork, quail and chef Tony Neglia

Queenie’s Steakhouse: home to beef, pork, quail and chef Tony Neglia

Queenie’s Steakhouse: home to beef, pork, quail and chef Tony Neglia
March 09
20:52 2016

Kyle Martin | Staff Writer

@Kyle_Martin35

Queenie’s Steakhouse is Denton’s only Zagat-rated, non-chain steakhouse, and is known for offering a luxurious, upscale dining experience in an otherwise grassroots, college town. Chef de cuisine Tony Neglia, 26, has been running the scratch-kitchen since the restaurant’s conception early in 2013.

“Obviously you have to cook good food, but a lot of it is time management,” Neglia said. “Anybody can be up here for 15 hours a day, but it’s all about getting stuff done during that time.”

Running hell’s kitchen involves next-level multitasking — making sure everything runs smoothly requires a lot of forethought. Lunch and dinner rushes are not for the faint of heart, often involving gratuitous amounts of swearing and cursing.

Head chef Tony Neglia moves fast during the dinner rush as he smokes some choppedoninos. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Head chef Tony Neglia moves fast during the dinner rush as he smokes some chopped onions. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

One has to be able to plate the third course for a birthday party of 10 after stitching a recently-cut finger or bandaging a hand that just got burnt. Meanwhile they’re dealing with the waffle maker that just busted, only to later dump waffle batter into a skillet and change the brunch special to pancakes instead.

On top of everything, customers actually have to like what they are eating and paying for. In short, problem-solving is a coveted skill in the restaurant business.

“Being prepared is the most important part, it seems like, because you can have a really busy night and if you’re prepared it’s easy,” sous chef Corey Hunter, 28, said. “If you’re not, it’s horrible.”

Hunter is second-in-command at Queenie’s. Neglia sports an orange bandana while Hunter’s is green, giving the two a Mario-and-Luigi type appearance in the kitchen window.

Attention to detail is something the two hold at a high standard, and “imperfect” is not in their vocabulary.

“You miss that one small detail, one plate, like that toasted garlic on a Crudo, and you forget to toast garlic,” Neglia said. “I know that sounds simple, but a lot of people will overlook the small details, and I think you have to have a grasp of both sides or it’s kind of difficult.”

Beef tenderloin, plated and ready to serve with sides of roasted red bell pepper hollandaise and cilantro pesto sauces. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Beef tenderloin, plated and ready to serve with sides of roasted red bell pepper hollandaise and cilantro pesto sauces. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Neglia and Hunter work seamlessly together behind the pass and said they rarely have to speak to each other in the kitchen. After working together for nearly a year, the two know each other well enough to push out plate after plate with minimal communication.

The kitchen is modest, but cramped—no bigger than a studio apartment bedroom, if that. On busy nights like Friday or Saturday, four cooks run the show, and two to three cooks are there on any other night. Teamwork drives the flow of the kitchen, with everyone working in harmony to create masterful dishes.

“Whenever it’s running correctly, it’s just like a finely-tuned orchestra,” Neglia said. “Everything’s just in sync—people communicate and talk, but you don’t really have to very much. Everyone just kind of knows what’s going on.”

It’s not a bad thing to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America or Le Cordon Bleu, by any means, but simply put, it’s not always necessary. He attended culinary school only briefly, but Neglia heads the four-star kitchen without a degree, and with eight years of prior restaurant experience under his chef coat.

In this craft, anyone with talent can succeed.

With both Italian and Sicilian roots, Neglia said he picked up his culinary inspiration and a few tricks by hanging around the kitchen after school while his mother was cooking. He said Sundays after church, his mother would go all out, spending hours preparing vats of pasta sauce and homemade Italian sausage and pasta. Like most kids in their mother’s kitchen, it was all about trying to sneak a couple bites while she wasn’t looking. 

“I was homeschooled for a few years, so I was always home and my mom would always be cooking, and I love food,” Neglia said.

Queenies Steakhouse freezers are marked with their signature Q after Queenie Love, the owner’s mother. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Queenies Steakhouse freezers are marked with their signature Q after Queenie Love, the owner’s mother. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Named after owner chef Tim Love’s mother, Queenie’s is home to an abundance of regulars. Many return week after week to eat Neglia’s food again and again, often ordering the same thing.  Everything is cooked to order, steaks are hand-cut to proportions of the customer’s discretion and dishes are made from scratch everyday, making the restaurant a “scratch kitchen.”

The restaurant offers special services to regulars to make them feel more at home—one of which is a leather-bound journal where patrons place a wine bottle label from a bottle purchased that night on a page and write down memories from the evening. Ron and Terri Cousins have been eating consistently at Queenie’s  and have used their book, now full, as a diary over the years.

The couple started the diary on May 26, 2014 with a Terlato 2007 Cardinal’s Peak from Napa Valley, and the most recent addition was on March 1, 2016—a Grenache 2012 Shatter from France. Entries include excerpts like, “We got the carpet today! Mother of Pearl is a hit.  Karsynn’s b-day is Saturday and hopefully things will be straight,” from June 17, 2015.

The book alone isn’t what brings back the customers but certainly adds to the lovable, intimate experience.

“When you slice into it, it looks like the side of a cliff–so sexy,” server Torry Clark said of a beef tenderloin laying at the window on its way to a table of hungry regulars.

Bart Williams and his family, self-proclaimed “hippies that live off the grid” in Rainbow Valley in Sanger, try to make it out to Queenie’s once a week to dine and devour Neglia’s creations.  They often order off the menu, but this week Williams was the recipient of the aforementioned cliff-like beef tenderloin, cooked rare with a cool red center and served with roasted red bell pepper hollandaise and cilantro-pesto sauces with five different types of roasted mushrooms as a side.

Williams’ son Fraedrich, accompanying him on this regular dining venture, had a plate of pork tenderloin in front of him, cooked medium and served over smoked cheddar grits with crispy fried onion rings. Time and time again, he returns because he loves the friendly and welcoming staff—and he loves the food.

“This is the best place to eat in Denton,” he said. “Bar none.”

Featured Image: Pork tenderloin cooked medium, served over smoked cheddar grits, with crisp fried onion rings. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

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