At first glance, Kaiser Grille Palm Springs and Jackalope Ranch may seem like very different restaurants. Kaiser Grille serves up fresh California Mediterranean fare from its wood-burning oven and exhibition kitchen on bustling Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, while the sprawling 6.5-acre Jackalope Ranch in Indio boasts dishes heavy on steak, barbecue, and Southwestern influences often centered around its smoker. But they also have many traits in common. Both are committed to menus heavy on fresh local produce, sustainable seafood, and natural and hormone-free USDA Prime beef for their wide array of steaks and chops.
And it’s tough to beat Lee Morcus’ expertise when it comes to the world of meat. Morcus, who runs the family-owned Kaiser Restaurant Group he founded with his father, Kaiser Morcus, nearly 30 years ago, was born and raised in cattle country in a small Colorado town where his family owned a farm and the town’s only grocery store and butcher shop. “If I wasn’t in the butcher shop with my uncles and father, I was in my sito (grandmother)’s old-world Lebanese kitchen, or I was on the farm with my jido (grandfather),” recounts Morcus. “Back then, there was only one way. The cows were organic, they were fed properly, they weren’t inoculated with hormones and antibiotics, and they weren’t given corn in their diets. They were not in congested pens or under stress.”
For decades Morcus has made it a priority to source meat for his Coachella Valley-based restaurants from small, established farms that raise their animals humanely and sustainably and feed them a proper diet, yielding meat that’s both better for you and more flavorful. It’s not just a philosophy he believes in, but what guests are asking for more frequently these days. “People are paying more attention to our food chain and are interested in adding years to their life and life to their years,” Morcus says. “Nutrition is key. Flavor, quality, and nutrition all come from the healthiest livestock and are inter-related.”
“Our boneless cuts get 28 to 35 days. There’s definitely a sweet spot for each cut before butchering,” says Lee Morcus.
The same standards Morcus applies to the beef he sources, he also applies to the restaurants’ chicken, pork, lamb and fish. “We feature small farm producers only — ranchers and farmers who adhere to the highest standards of animal husbandry with traceable bloodlines, and open grazing and pasturing,” he says. “The animals are hormone, antibiotic, statin- and steroid free and are fed premium and organic diets in most cases.”
To get the most out of the high-quality meats it sources, Morcus and his dad have taught Kaiser Restaurant Group’s chefs how to butcher “the old-fashioned way” and everything is done in-house – from aging the beef to butchering and hand trimming to grinding the burgers to pulling the pork. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making Kaiser Restaurant Group’s meat offerings a cut above.
Prime-Aged Steaks and Chops
Each venue has a dedicated cooler where meats are aged just right depending on the cut – whether it be a filet mignon, New York strip, or pork porterhouse with bone-in varieties aged for 35 to 45 days. “I like a little more time on the bone-in cuts because they age a little more slowly,” Morcus says. “Our boneless cuts get 28 to 35 days. There’s definitely a sweet spot for each cut before butchering.”
Steak selections include favorite standards of filet mignon, New York strip and boneless ribeye, to specialty cuts such as Chateaubriand and the double Tomahawk rib beef chop – both for two guests. Lesser known and flavorful cuts may include the Hanger (butcher’s cut), Coulotte, and others. Of course, bone-in cuts are prime features.
Poultry, Pork and Lamb
The chicken served at both restaurants is pastured from California-based Mary's free-range chicken. “The birds are fed organic diets and air-cooled with no saline, bleaching, or a salted ice-water plunge that adds weight and sodium,” says Morcus. The 100 percent pure-bred Berkshire pork (also known as Kurobuta — Japanese for black hog), the restaurants use is also free of hormones, antibiotics, and statins, and the pigs are fed premium diets for the healthiest end result. “We have the best tasting pork ribs, chops, and butts,” says Morcus. The lamb is all Colorado Prime or sourced from New Zealand, where organic farming is the standard. “It is illegal in New Zealand to provide livestock with hormones, antibiotics or steroids and the country is famous for its clean air and water,” he says.
Jackalope Ranch spends extensive time preparing rubs and sauces from scratch.
One of the keys to Jackalope Ranch’s fabled, flavorful barbecue is time. The baby back ribs are smoked low and slow for four hours before they’re chargrilled; the brisket gets 12 hours; and pork butts take a solid 16. The kitchen’s scratch-made rubs and sauces are equally time-intensive. “We have proprietary recipes for everything we do so that the rub for the pork butt is different than the rub for the baby back ribs,” Morcus says. “Our barbecue sauce has 36 different ingredients and it simmers for 24 hours before it’s ready.”
Don’t debate Morcus on the best beef to use for a perfect patty. He’s going to win. “It’s chuck, 100 percent pure chuck. Period. It gives you the best flavor, the best juice, and the best texture,” Morcus insists. The kitchens get the chuck whole, clean it, cut out the grizzle, and grind it before adding some of the fat back in to get that right ratio of 15 to 16 percent. “We have our grind specs – not to coarse or too fine. We don’t want it too lean because the burgers can get dry. We don’t want it too fat-heavy because then they get greasy. There’s a balance,” he explains. “They’re hand-formed and hand-packed because a burger that’s packed too tight won’t hold the juice and a burger that’s packed too loose will fall apart. There’s an art to this.”
There is an old saying in my business,” Morcus says. "If you want the freshest and best fish, go to the best steakhouse.” Indeed, all of Kaiser Restaurant Group’s seafood is 100-percent fresh, wild, and sustainable, and in the rare instances where the restaurants procure farmed fish, it’s been raised with the highest standards of aquaculture practices. “We strictly adhere to the standards established and updated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has established the highest standard by which the fish industry is monitored. It’s the undisputed international benchmark,” Morcus explains.
Kaiser Grille and Jackalope Ranch chefs then work their magic on the fresh seafood they bring in, creating dishes like sautéed Mediterranean branzino with marinated baby artichokes, braised fennel, preserved lemon, olives, capers, heirloom tomatoes over parmigiano reggiano spinach risotto, Loch Duart and Skuna Bay salmon, line-caught swordfish steak, wild ahi tuna and more.
The quality that runs through every dish that comes out of the kitchens at Kaiser Grille and Jackalope Ranch is a big part of why guests — both locals and visitors alike — come back again and again. And when it comes to his restaurants’ meats, Morcus can confidently say they’re the best in the valley, hands-down. “Yes, it starts with the quality of what we buy, but then how we handle the meat before we cook it just as important as how we cook it,” he explains, adding that most other steakhouses purchase pre-cut meat, broil their steaks at overly high temperatures, and then cover them up with melted butter or au jus, masking the true meat flavor.
“At Kaiser Grille and Jackalope Ranch, we cook our meat at lower temperatures for longer periods, which allows the juice, the tenderness and the flavor to develop more fully. The juice stays in the meat and doesn’t bleed out,” he explains. “You’ll see the difference and you’ll taste the difference. Our steaks can stand on their own.”