Venue Review: Shula's 347 Grill
If you're an NFL history buff, you'll doubtless recognize that Shula's 347 Grill, the restaurant in the Sheraton Chapel Hill, is named for Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and his record number of lifetime victories. Even if you don't know a field goal from a forward pass, the impressive display of memorabilia in the dining room - from autographed footballs to photos of Shula with internationally known superstars and celebrities - makes it clear that Shula was a big deal in the sports world.
Shula retired in 1995 after 33 years (another record), and turned his attention to opening a chain of premium steakhouses. Called Shula's American Steakhouse, these restaurants feature a proprietary USDA Choice cut of Angus beef called Shula Cut, which exceeds seven of the eight key standards that qualify steaks for Prime certification. Shula's 347 is a spinoff of the original chain, serving the same steaks (albeit smaller cuts and a limited selection) in a more casual setting.
Don't get the idea that Shula's 347 is a sports bar, however. Sure, there are no linens on the tables, and you'll find a handful of plasma screens placed discreetly around the dining room and bar. But there's more than enough dark woodwork and leather upholstery to leave no doubt as to the restaurant's steakhouse pedigree.
At first glance, the prices - $33 for an 8-ounce filet, $34 for a 14-ounce New York strip or 16-ounce bone in "Cowboy" rib-eye - appear to be on a par with what you'd pay at other top steakhouses in the Triangle. But at Shula's 347, the tab includes your choice of two sides (grilled asparagus, shoestring fries and buttery skin-on smashed potatoes are among the winning options) which would set you back another $10 or more elsewhere.
And, while the selection of steaks is limited (an 8-ounce filet, a 14-ounce New York strip and a 16-ounce bone-in rib-eye), the quality can hold its own against what you'd get at most of those fancy à la carte joints. Wet-aged for 18-24 days and expertly flame-grilled to order, they're seasoned simply with salt, pepper and a bit of melted butter, then allowed to rest long enough for the juices to redistribute before serving. The exceptionally tender and juicy result is, as promised, virtually indistinguishable from Prime beef.
Alternatives to beef
Because Shula's 347 is a hybrid of sorts - part steakhouse, part hotel dining room - the list of steak alternatives is longer and more varied than at most steakhouses. Pecan-crusted salmon is the most popular of those options by a wide margin, according to general manager (or "Head Coach," as the position is titled here) John Hanson. Others include rosemary- and garlic-marinated grilled shrimp, wild mushroom ravioli with red wine-braised boneless beef short ribs, and a daily fresh catch selection (recently, a more than respectable grilled grouper filet).
The dinner menu also offers a selection of sandwiches, which expands at lunchtime to include entree salads and "Fan Favorites" such as crispy ravioli, Buffalo chicken tenders and baby back ribs. If you're hoping for the sort of juicy, medium-rare burger that you might reasonably expect from a steakhouse, though, you're out of luck. Because Shula's 347 doesn't grind the beef in house, burgers must be cooked at least medium-well.
On the bright side, a windfall of the hotel setting is that the full dinner menu is available at lunchtime. You can even breakfast on steak and eggs if you're so inclined and can spare the $36. Those options are primarily aimed at expense-account travelers and corporate gatherings, of course, but it's nice to know they're available.
Appetizers and dessert
In the more likely event that you're there for dinner, you'll want to indulge in the jumbo lump crab cake, which for my money is easily the best of the appetizer options. If a steakhouse dinner just doesn't seem complete without a Caesar salad, go ahead and order one. It's about average for a steakhouse of this caliber.
For dessert, crème brûlée is the way to go. It's solidly executed, and the only one that's made in house.
Hanging on a wall near the bar is a brass plaque engraved with the words of Don Shula's mentor, coaching legend Paul Brown: "Football is a game of errors. The team that makes the fewest errors usually wins." Judged by that standard, Shula's 347 falls a bit short of the standard of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, which Shula coached to the only undefeated season in NFL history. But the restaurant definitely qualifies for the playoffs.