Photo credit: Blake Myers

Chain restaurants began to proliferate in the early 1950s, and were never conceived as “fine” or “upscale” dining establishments. They catered to the growth of newly-mobile diners after World War II who were discovering the attraction of dining “on-the-go,” as they were increasingly able to enjoy restaurants that didn’t involve making reservations or prior planning.

There was no anticipation of top quality, as customers realized this was mass production which, understandably, didn’t equate to premium food and service being part of the dining experience.

Over the years, though, I’ve pondered the label “chain restaurant,” and theorized about the factors that actually define the term, and how they play into our dining expectations.

So what is it that causes us to regard a restaurant as a chain? Do we base our opinion simply on the numbers that exist, or perhaps the size of the geographical region in which they operate makes us think of them that way?

Let’s begin our analysis with the realization that many restaurant customers will maintain that, basically, “chain restaurants” and “quality dining” are an oxymoron—that is, a combination of contradictory terms.

So where does that leave Mastro’s Ocean Club in the overall equation? Perhaps a little history will be instructive.

The restaurant opened in 2010 in The Shops at Crystals in the CityCenter complex, and Brandon Strickland is the current General Manager. Mastro’s is perched in a “treehouse,” a beautiful open space nestled in a soaring, modern wooden “tree-like” structure perched 40 feet or so above the first floor of the mall. 

However, Mastro’s actually goes back quite a ways. In the mid-1970s, Dennis Mastro operated What’s Your Beef, a steakhouse in Scottsdale, Arizona. Eventually, in 1991, he and his son Michael, began establishing new restaurants in the Scottsdale and Phoenix areas, and so, Mastro’s Steakhouse was born. Shortly thereafter, the initial Mastro’s Ocean Club opened in Scottsdale.

The Mastro’s organization was sold in 2007, and changed hands again in 2013 when it was acquired by Landry’s Restaurants, owned by well-known hospitality entrepreneur Tilman Fertitta. There are currently 18 of the Mastro’s steakhouse and seafood restaurants in eight states, and by most metrics, I believe that we can consider them a small chain.

But what about all the people who believe strongly in the “oxymoron” principle, which would dictate that Mastro’s can’t possibly amount to more than chain restaurant dining? Well, if that’s your personal feeling, I think you’ll change your mind after eating there.

Though the original Ocean Club focus of Mastro’s was on seafood, over the years, many beef dishes from their steakhouse restaurants have been added to the menu, and now offer the best of both worlds.

Under Executive Chef Ricardo Romo, the wide selection of delicious appetizers offers choices for both seafood and beef lovers. Most prominent are the Dungeness Crab Cocktail, Lobster Cocktail, Florida Stone Crab Claws, Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, Caviar, Sauteed Sea Scallops, Foie Gras, Bigeye Tuna Tartare and Seared Bigeye Tuna. Last but not least, the impressive Seafood Tower is very unusual in that it doesn’t contain a “set” combination of ingredients; the price is adjustable based on the favorite seafood items you select. 

At the time of this writing, the seafood entrees offer selections from many distant points, including Chilean Sea Bass, New Zealand King Salmon Fillet, Grouper, Baked Twin Lobster Tails, Alaskan King Crab Legs, Broiled Live Maine Lobster and a jaw-dropping 22-ounce Canadian Lobster Tail.

Steaks and Chops are equally represented, and include different sizes of Filets and Bone-In Filets, Bone-In Kansas City Strips, Boneless Ribeyes, and for bigger appetites, a 22-ounce Bone-In Ribeye and 22-ounce Rack of Lamb. Beef is 28-day wet-aged. There’s also a 24-ounce Herb Roasted Chicken. If you desire an even more upscale selection, Mastro’s offers Japanese A5 Wagyu in 8-, 10- and 12-ounce New York Strips. If these aren’t impressive enough, you may choose Snake River Farms Wagyu Tomahawk Chops in 32- and 40-ounce sizes.

Mastro’s recognizes that side-dishes should be special, too. Notable are the Lobster Mashed Potatoes, Alaskan King Crab Black Truffle Gnocchi and Truffle Butter Sautéed Wild Mushrooms.

To enhance your meal, the extensive wine list, under the supervision of Assistant General Manager/Wine Director Aaron Smith, is most impressive. Its sections are: Sake, Sparkling, Champagne (Vintage and Non-vintage), Rosé, White Varietals (Domestic and International), Chardonnay (Domestic), Pinot Noir (California and Oregon), Burgundy and Beaujolais, Domestic Proprietary Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon (Domestic), Red Varietals (Domestic), Merlot (Domestic) and Reds from Italy, Spain, South America, Bordeaux and Rhone, Australia/New Zealand and South Africa. Corkage is a reasonable $35.00 for 750 ml bottles.

The dessert menu offers many delicious selections, including their Signature Warm Butter Cake, Profiteroles, Chocolate Sin Cake and Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

Trust me, the word “oxymoron” will disappear from your thinking after visiting Mastro’s.