MANILA -- Steak doesn’t have to be complicated.
Meat Plus Café, which recently opened its first branch in Manila at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay, has mastered the simplest and perhaps the most delicious way of cooking your steak — no fuss and just the way you like it.
“We just do salt and pepper, and then straight to the grill,” explained Chiloy Santos, corporate chef of Meat Plus Specialists Philippines, during our visit.
Known for being a popular steak stopover place in Subic (where Meat Plus originated) and Clark, these meat purveyors turned restaurateurs are close to celebrating 30 years in the steak business.
After the Americans left Subic in 1992, Toti and Vilma Santos thought of putting up a PX-goods shop but ended up opening a combination meat shop and a toy shop instead.
“The original idea was… let’s put up a duty-free. The first idea was liquor and cigarettes, but since my dad was into meat trading, he said, 'Why don’t we sell US meat?.' Because when you talk about PX or US bases, you think of steaks and burgers from the US, right?... And when the parents go to the meat shop, the kids can go to the toy shop,” Santos recalled.
A few years in, the toy shop side of the business was dropped, and Meat Plus became solely a butcher shop.
“People started lining up and asking us, 'Where can we cook the steaks? We’re hungry, maybe you can cook the steaks for us.' So our parents decided to try it out outside. Bought an old school griller with charcoal, [and served steak with] canned corn, and paper plates. When it started, people were lining up outside, and tourist buses were parked in front. Pila sila! People ate on paper plates and with plastic utensils. After that phenomenon, my parents decided that it’s about time we put up our own restaurant,” Santos said.
It was in 1994 when Meat Plus Café officially opened its doors, initially with six additional partners (Bob and Betsy Tenchavez, Spanky and Apples Meer, and Paquito and Pinky Tanjanco). Since then, Meat Plus has steadily enjoyed its flourishing business in its northern locations, which in turn, has enabled the group to launch other homegrown brands in Metro Manila like Kettle, Fireside, and Tender Bob’s.
“For a long time, everyone was asking us when we’ll open in Manila. SM gave us this location, and the board met on it, and we decided to try it out, and so here we are,” said Santos.
For the Metro Manila branch, while the logo may have been tweaked and interiors modernized, the products and ordering process (it's still self-service -- you get a number, you line up, pick your combo meal or your steak cut, pay, and it’ll be brought to your table) still remains the same as in the other Meat Plus restaurants.
“It’s the same concept, we haven’t changed the concept. We don’t want people to think that it’s not the same as the Meat Plus in Subic and Clark. We don’t want to lose the heritage,” shared Santos.
Hungry for US meat goodness? Here are some highly recommended options from Meat Plus Café.
Crispy, thin and delicious! At P75 an order, the Potato Skin is an addicting way to start your meal.
Choose your own steak like this T-bone with rice. First, you select your US meat of choice (burgers, rib-eye, to t-bone steaks and more), pay for the meat and just add a cooking fee of P155.
If you’re not in the mood to pick from the fridge, steak meals served with rice and veggies are available, like this rib-eye steak cooked perfectly medium.
Aside from steaks, Chef Caloy was especially proud of their burgers. No extenders, this burger with rice and mushroom gravy was a winning combination. (These patties can also be enjoyed in a Meat Plus Hamburger, as well)
Lusciously soft and melt-in-your-mouth, this oven-roasted Beef Belly Combo with soup and rice is this author’s favorite non-steak beef option.
It’s not just all about beef here. A definite kid-friendly meal especially with the spaghetti, it’s the fried chicken that took us by surprise—flavorful, juicy with crunch-tastic skin. We shouldn’t have been surprised though, as the group behind Meat Plus are the same people that gave us Kettle’s buttermilk fried chicken.
If you’re in a group and want to taste the bestsellers of Meat Plus Café, look towards the platter options. Meat Plus Platter A, for example, has grilled chicken, pork chops, pork BBQ ribs, and oven-roasted beef belly, with sides of vegetables and corn.
Apple pie is quintessentially American, and Meat Plus Cafe’s version doesn’t disappoint with buttery apple slices stacked inside a golden pie crust, topped with cheese. Other dessert options include a carrot cake, a New York style cheesecake, and a chocolate cake. There’s also the Pleasure Mountain, a giant ice cream sundae with gummy candies, chocolate sticks, and more.