Red Meat, The Definitive Guide to Chicago Steak

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There are serious issues in Economics, Finance, and Politics that we can cover.  But there are bigger issues out there.  A friend telephoned me today because a client of his was visiting Chicago for the first time.  Where should he take him for steak?  If you are not from Chicago, this can be a very incendiary question.  Fights have broken out over loyalty to beef.  Rightfully so.  Some places that call themselves steak places in Chicago stink.  Like Rodney Dangerfield said in Caddyshack, “This is low grade dog food.”  So here is my take on steak in Chicago (suburbs not included).

There is not a “best” solidly number one steakhouse in Chicago.  Then there are places like Harry Carey’s that serve a great steak, but aren’t really classic steakhouses.  If you have dietary restriction, the only kosher steakhouse I know of is Bugsy’s Charhouse in the northern suburbs.  Never been there so I can’t rate it.  I also am not counting the South American places.  They have meat, but it’s not the classic Chicago experience.  I do think about taking a bunch of teen age boys to one and just watching them eat with the green chip up.  Bones would fly.  Would be really cro-magnon.  But we can rate the other places.

Here are the tourist traps.  Conventioneers that are afraid of cabs and going “into the neighborhoods” go to these places.  You stay away, capice? Sullivan’s, Shula’s(stick to football), The Palm, Wildfire (chain), Capital Grille (but the one in DC is great.  Get a waiter named Tony-he is the best), Kinzie Chop House, Weber Grille(I can do that at home), Rosebud Steakhouse (shoulda stuck to pasta), and Ruth’s Chris.  Ruth’s Chris doesn’t even use prime beef, they use grocery store choice! Lastly, there is Ditka’s.  The Coach’s place is okay-but way too touristy for me.  I hesitate to tick off da coach, but I like the bar, good for groups, but just for a dinner out I’d go somewhere else.  I am going to wear a helmet when I go by there from now on.

Here are some really good places that you can get a great steak, but it’s not the feature.  Keefer’s, the aforementioned Harry Carey’s, Joe’s Stone Crab.  I am biased on Harry Carey, since they serve www.tallgrassbeef.com.  It’s great beef, and it’s good for you!  I order it online.  High in Omega 3’s. Full disclosure, I liked it so much I invested in the company.  That sounds like Victor Kiam, the Remington guy, but I haven’t gotten rich off it yet.  Another of my personal favorites is Italian Village at lunch.  I hate to even tell you this.  Go upstairs into the bar and see Vinnie.  Italian Village does a great steak at lunch, and it is worth it to be served by Vinnie.  There might not be a better bartender in Chicago.  They have tremendous ham on Friday too.
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Another segment of the market in Chicago is “chick friendly” steakhouses.  Tasteful decorating, better focus on side dishes-good place to take a woman and then get laid later on.  With what you’ll pay at these places you should get a little something for the effort.   David Burke’s Primehouse is the best of these kinds of steak spots.  He dry ages his own angus beef (not USDA prime).  The side dishes are the best at a steak house in the city.  The Caesar salad is tremendous.  Service is great.  Used to be a guy there named Jeff Hemmings that was on the trading floor for 15 years or so.  Jeff passed away this year.  I’d go there just to honor him.  He whipped the people in shape at Prime because he knew what people wanted.  N9NE is an overpriced place compared to David Burke’s place.  If you have to go with women that are adamant about not going to a steak house, take them to Primehouse.
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Let’s cut to the meat of the matter. Enough with trying to please the broads.   You can’t be a steakhouse in Chicago unless you use USDA Prime Beef.  Prime beef is expensive.  There is so little of it we don’t even trade it on the floor.  Due to the economic decline, you can get prime beef at Costco now.  It’s tasty stuff, even though it’s absolutely horrible for you (that’s why I chow on tallgrassbeef.com).

Smith and Wollensky has a spot on the Chicago River across from Trump Tower.  If I wanted to do that, I’d go to NYC.  I am not a fan of the place.  Meat is decent.  They do a really good job with wine.  But I just feel a little uncomfortable in there. Can’t put my finger on it.  The side dishes are not that spectacular either.

The Chicago Chop House, or more properly, Chop House, is pretty decent.  I once took a person from India who was Hindu there for his first ever cut of beef.  He ordered a bone in filet medium.  I tolerated his “medium” order only because he was a steak virgin.  After all, we truly were goring a sacred cow. Chop House is also where I took a pretty high powered family one night.  We had a fantastic time, and the service was great.  Plus, they have a really great wine list.  You cannot go wrong here, and lot’s of people in Chicago will swear it’s their favorite. But it’s not mine.  The room is a little too cramped for me.   I am 6’5″, 245 lbs. It doesn’t take much to get me cramped.
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Gene and Georgetti’s may serve the best T-bone in Chicago.  My wife and I split one there.  They have a great old fashioned bar.  Lots of red.  I don’t particularly care for the room.  It’s loud as hell.  But the steaks there are tremendous.  Toss up between here and Chop House, and if you are in a more gregarious mood, G+G is the spot-they have a better bar and better bartenders.  Mean martini’s.  It is also considered the power steak house in Chicago.  They negotiated the CME-CBOT deal here.   My best G+G story:  I was a rookie sales guy working for 3M in 1984.  I was working a show at McCormick Place with a bunch of big shots from the home office in St. Paul, MN.  A guy named Charlie McGreevy asked me, “Where should we go eat steak in Chicago?”.  Not ever having been at a steak house, I kept my mouth shut.  Charlie said, “How about Gene and Georgetti’s?” I shrugged my shoulders and went back to work.  That night, the waiter came to take our order.  I looked at the menu, didn’t want to spend a lot of dough on the company-and I thought it was more of an Italian place.  I ordered the pasta.  Doh!  I think I drooled all over my suit.  Charley was a great guy with a street smart New Jersey attitude-so he didn’t ride me too bad.
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Erie Cafe is a Chicagoans place.  Nothing fancy.  Plenty of room at the tables.  Nice outdoor seating in the summer.  Decent sides, not great, but decent. Nice big bar, with okay bartenders. What I like about it is that there is no bullshit, no niceties.  It’s real matter of fact Chicago.  Go with your girl, wife, buddies, business.  Nothing over the top except the beef.  The beef is excellent. We are there to gnaw on a t-bone and they are there to serve us.  This steak house is like a diesel engine.  Really reliable and comfortable.  You don’t see a lot of movie stars here.  The wine list is solid.  The owners are related to the original owners of Gene and Georgetti’s.  I go here a fair amount of the time. They take care of their regulars.

Morton’s is now a world wide chain.  If you go to the Chicago original on State St. next to the Viagra Triangle it’s really good.  I know of two or three people that say this is the best steakhouse in Chicago hands down.  They aren’t skinny.  Morton’s may have the best total food of any steakhouse.  The side dishes add to the steak.  Potatoes as big as footballs.  One night I was there with a bunch of traders and saw a guy put down a 48oz porterhouse.  It was amazing.  I ate a 24oz porterhouse that night.  Thank goodness we were young.  Otherwise we would have needed a side of Lipitor.  Morton’s in other cities might not be as good.  The Morton’s in the Loop isn’t as good.  But the Morton’s on State St. is really true steakness.  Plus you can stumble out of there and not have to walk real far to a lot of bars.

Gibson’s is flash and dash.  It shares a kitchen with Hugo’s Frog Bar-so at Hugo’s you can get a Gibson’s steak.  Gibson’s has a decent wine list.  The meat is prime and the chefs know how to cook it.  They make a mean steak.  Bone in Rib eye, medium rare.  Yum.  I might go there after writing this blog.  Movie stars hang at Gibson’s.  Johnnie Depp gave a $4000 tip there.  Hope the waiter doesn’t get used to that!  Famous beautiful people munch here.  Michael Jordan used to smoke cigars in the corner window with his posse and sirloin.  It is the Viagra Triangle.  In the summer, you can sit outside and pretend you are in France.  It’s actually really refreshing.  That said, everything here is over the top.  This is the see and be seen steak house in Chicago.  Downside, you have to go upstairs to go to the bathroom.

Oh, and never go to a good steak house and order it medium, medium well, or well done(there is a special place in hell for people that order prime beef well done-just eat the chicken or fish please.)  So there you have it.  Hungry?
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    pittrader1988

    2010/01/21 at 9:57pm
    FYI, ate at Primehouse tonight. Shut out so far. Steak was nice, decor was nice. But I am an Erie, G+G, Chop House guy.

    My wife enjoyed Primehouse

    Tom Bentley

    2010/01/21 at 4:25pm
    I agree with most everything put forth here with 2 exceptions. David Burke’s? Been there twice, to make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke. Dry age a steak? The “ambience” being what it is there and the dry steaks, I’d rather go to a Ponderosa.

    I’ve been in virtually every steakhouse in the city, and all the great ones can get their hands on prime choice. Therefore, it comes down to how you cook it. It may not be hip to say so, but Gibson’s does it the best. Expensive? Yes. Touristy? Yes. But the steaks are cooked right and they taste the best. IMHO

    thomas chevrier
    2010/01/20 at 9:03pm
    LMAO!!
    Well done!
    I loved all the good jokes and funny lines!
    and I agree with it all pretty much…
    but let’s face it – the best steak in Chicago is the one we cook ourselves!

    Natalie

    2010/01/20 at 6:43pm
    Great article!

    Roland Owens
    2010/01/20 at 6:26pm
    I know what you’re saying about Smith and Wollensky. It’s good but …

    As a native Louisiana, you hurt my feelings by revealing the truth about Ruth Chris. I’ll still go there with the truth in front of me.

    I totally agree with your comments on Primehouse. Ladies love it.

    I think the Luxbar is aslo related to Gibson’s. I’ve had a kick ass, late night ribeye there! I highly recommend Luxbar (across the street) if there’s a wait Gibson’s at 10:30pm.

    FYI, Morton’s in Buckhead, Atlanta is kick ass location. I think it’s really close to Morton’s Viagra triangle location in taste.

    mike spallone

    2010/01/20 at 12:19pm
    having had the “luxury” of living in chicagoland for 30 years and being spoiled on both good and “bad” beef, i’ve come to the conclusion that the worst steak in chicago is probably better than 90% of the country. with places like Morton’s, Ruth Cris and various smaller but just as good mom and pop places, visiting and eating your favorite cut is a “priceless” experience. here in florida, it’s horrible, which explains the vast number of fish houses. there’s plenty of beef(plenty of cows) but it’s that good old fashion midwest feed lot steer that somehow has the flavor and taste.
    it’s been many years since visiting G&G and “Gibby’s” and they are right up there with the best of the best, but now that i’m far away, i’d be happy with any good cut served at the local corner restaurant in and around chicagoland
    and since this is a great day and we’re going out to dinner….darn, stuck with fried fish and hushpuppies again…but dreaming of Mr porterhouse

    Tony LaPorta
    powerpoints.net
    205.188.116.73
    2010/01/19 at 10:00pm
    Nice job CR. I have always been a fan of G & G.

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