Longtime restaurateur Willie Degel knows today’s demanding diners are searching for more than just a great meal. A unique dining experience is equally important.
“The new generation of diners are changing the way we do everything in the restaurant business,” said Degel, who opened Uncle Jack’s Meat House in Duluth two years ago. “We have to be interactive, visually intriguing and high energy to fully engage people.”
The Duluth location of Uncle Jack’s Meat House is Degel’s first restaurant venture in Georgia, following a successful restaurant career in New York over the past three decades. A second location in Georgia will open in Peachtree Corners this spring.
The concept — and name — was inspired by stories Degel heard growing up about the New York steakhouses and speakeasy owned by his great uncle Jack in the 1920s.
Degel describes Uncle Jack’s Meat House as an American bar and grill built around a menu of select cuts of meat, combined with a bit of “show business” on the side.
To add to the restaurant ambience, Degel pays careful attention to lighting and employs a full-time disc jockey who custom mixes music for all his restaurants. He also displays the dry-aging process for meat — which lasts up to 100 days for some cuts — right in the center of the restaurant.
The former Food Network reality show host (“Restaurant Stakeout”) is known in the business as “The Steak Doctor,” a moniker Degel says he earned for his talents on the grill back in New York from his peers and customers.
“I always tried to be the innovator in everything I did [in my restaurants],” said Degel, who grew up in Queens and opened his first restaurant in 1990.
He said he was among the first to import Japanese Kobe beef to New York, purchasing the entire steer in Japan, then sending it to a meat packer for custom cuts for his restaurants.
At Uncle Jack’s Meat House, when it comes to meat options, Degel says if you can name it, it’s likely on the menu. Featured items include USDA prime and choice New York strip, filet mignon and a 35-day dry-aged rib chop known as the Fred Flintstone Longbone.
Half-pound steak burgers, pork chops, chicken and seafood are also options, with the goal to use organic, sustainable and locally sourced products when possible.
Signature sides include eggplant rings, Maine lobster and avocado tacos, lollipop lamb chops and charred Spanish octopus.
For the lighter eater, the menu offers sandwiches, sides and salads, and a decadent dessert menu including the OMG It’s Huge Coconut Cream Pie and a Baking Bad Scratch Cookie Plate.
Degel has family in Georgia and comes into Atlanta several times a year to visit and check in on Uncle Jack’s Meat House. His visits may become more frequent with plans to open several more locations throughout the state in the coming years.
“I’m so excited about the opportunities in Georgia,” said Degel, who spends most of his time overseeing three restaurants in the New York City area.
He knows steakhouse-type restaurants dot the culinary landscape, but believes Uncle Jack’s Meat House sets the bar for its attention to detail, design, decor and an overall experience you won’t find elsewhere.
“I came from nothing, worked my way up, and I will do whatever it takes to make sure I give everything to my guests,” said Degel. “I want to have [my guests] for life … and that’s not phony baloney.”