Summit undergoes operation Salvage

The goal is to make Salvage more laid back than the Summit was, without losing the things that made it great to begin with.

French Onion Soup at Salvage.Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

French Onion Soup at Salvage.Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

Prime rib sandwich with hand cut fries and au jus at Salvage.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

Prime rib sandwich with hand cut fries and au jus at Salvage. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

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Nicoise salad with sesame encrusted Ahi tuna at Salvage. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

Fruit and cheese plate from Salvage.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

Fruit and cheese plate from Salvage. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel

AURORA | For four decades, if you wanted a top-of-the-line steak in southeast metro Aurora, there was really just one option: The Summit Steak House.

The restaurant at East Yale Avenue and South Havana Street was the premiere Aurora restaurant for decades, the place where countless A-Town teens went for prom or where your folks dragged you to Easter brunch or Nana’s 75th birthday bash.

But when they bought the iconic restaurant earlier this year, Hopi Star Mondale and her husband, Stephen Mondale, said The Summit was showing its age.

Sure, those choice cuts of beef were as tender as ever, and the menu boasted escargot and other delicacies that rarely grace any other Aurora card.

But the Summit felt a little too much like what it was: A 40-year-old steak house, they said.

“It kind of got stuck in a time warp of sorts, kind of the 80s, early 90s steakhouse,” Hopi said during an interview this week at the swank Aurora eatery. “And it wasn’t attracting new clientele.”

So the couple changed things up.

The Summit moniker is gone, replaced with Salvage Restaurant, a name Hopi said evokes what they are trying to do to an iconic Aurora dining spot: save it.

Some of the changes — including scrapping live music — have met some resistance from the loyal clientele, she said. But even those changes have been greeted with equal praise.

And Stephen, who serves as the executive chef, said while they expected to completely tear down the menu and start over, they realized early on that they didn’t need to do that. The prime rib and the steaks are still there, though the Mondales dropped the prices by a few bucks. The calamari and a handful of other items are sticking around, too.

The initial plan was to scrap the escargot, but they said they learned pretty quickly that many loyal customers come there specifically for the French staple, which they can’t find elsewhere.

“Some of these are community favorites, and you can’t take those away,” Stephen said.

But the menu is a bit different. That $75 Cowboy Ribeye is gone. There are more sandwiches on the lunch menu — including several that take advantage of the already-awesome prime rib the spot has long-been known for. The brunch menu is much bigger than it once was, too.

For an iconic spot like their’s, balancing what people have always loved with trying to lure new customers can be daunting.

“It’s a delicate ecosystem of keeping everyone happy and attracting new clientele,” she said.

Thankfully, Hopi said, they have the sort of awesome food that everyone, loyal customers or new, can agree on.

The goal, Hopi said, is to make Salvage more laid back than the Summit was, without losing the things that made it great to begin with. If people want a nice steak dinner, they have plenty of options on the menu, still, but that’s not all Salvage is. Instead of “fine dining” — a term Hopi said makes her cringe because after all, any dining can and should be fine — they see it as “premium casual.”

If someone wants to spend a couple hundred bucks on steak and wine for dinner? They can do that here. But if they want to drop only $20 on lunch? That’s an option now, too.

“You can come in here and get a drink and a sandwich, and probably still have half a sandwich for later,” she said. “We want to be approachable.”