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Uber-Chowhound visits Chicago -- need steak, expectations high

Steak and wine are canonized in my family. I am as anal-retentive and obsessive-compulsive as they come. I have been disappointed by dozens of steakhouses in NY, LA, SF (yet to find a good one), Atlanta, Phoenix, Texas, Tennessee ...

My favorite cut is the porterhouse. I always ask for -- okay, I demand -- extra rare (blue rare, Pittsburg rare, sushi-like, Hannibal-Lechter-style). I estimate that I average 50% on sending back steaks in restaurants for being overcooked. I'm sure I've ingested more than my fair share of "special sauce" from vindictive cooks and waitstaff.

Acceptable: Peter Luger's in Brooklyn, Bern's in Tampa, Bones in Atlanta, Hitching Post in Santa Barbara, Manny's in Minneapolis, Ruths Chris in Beverly Hills (but no other RC).

Tell me where to go to get the best steak in Chicago, period. If there is no consensus, I will be at the "original Morton's."

I wonder how many nights in a row can you eat steak? Morton's, Gibson's, Chop House, G&G, S&W, Keefer's.

Oh yeah, I don't have to have porterhouse -- if another cut is superior, tell me. But PLEASE don't try to push prime rib!!!! (Do I have to say it? -- it's not steak!)

We non-Chicago folk believe in the legend of the "midwestern corn-fed steak," and we believe Chicago to be the Mecca. My expectations are sky-high. Where do I go?

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  1. The best steak is not at a steakhouse. It is the porterhouse for 2 at Gioco. It is a 40 ouncer cooked in a wood fired oven and served with bunches of fresh rosemary. It is charred on the outside and has an incredible smokiness because of the wood oven. Aside from that, Gibson's is consistently good.

    1. I am a huge fan of Keefer's, but I don't really know if they serve a porterhouse.

        1. re: gleam

          I would strongly second David Burke's -- my favorite steakhouse in Chicago, serving some outstanding dry aged beef.

        2. I think, here, you will find steaks done the way you want. My husband also likes his steak very rare, and I can't remember him having to ever send one back. But we always emphasize it by saying "very rare, like it's mother was scared by a flame rare"

          1. Based upon your high expectations, I'm afraid that you may end up being disappointed. The original Morton's is good, but not great -- same with the Chicago Chophouse, G&G, and Gibson's. IMO, these places are consistenly good, but aren't what they once were.

            S&W and Keefer's probably are the most solid choices for above-average, but the best steak that I've had in the past few years actually was the kona-crusted sirloin at the Capital Grille. That said, I have not yet tried David Burke's but have heard and read good things.

            2 Replies
            1. re: RMA

              In fact, the original Morton's was a BIG disappointment when we ate there recently (and not only because I used to work for the guy, and when he moved up in style from the old Hyde Park place, I used to be very loyal) - the steaks were average at best, the sides were cold, and the drinks were a rip-off. So I wouldn't even categorize the place as "good." Our favorite is the local Ruth's Chris, simply because we like their way of cooking beef - plus, we have never had anything but great steak there. But if you haven't been impressed with other RCs, who knows how you'd feel about this one?

              The best beef I've ever eaten was in Japan (flavorful and tender - absolutley incredible) - it might be possible to find a steak there, though they usually cut it differently. If steak is this important to you, I'd recommend a trip to Kobe.

              1. re: Akatonbo

                Ruth Chris is just awful; and is clearly not in league with any of the recommended Steakhouses on this thread so far. The steaming meat on a hot platter of bubbling butter and meat grease is just gross. The steak lack crust and while the meat is Prime grade, there is nothing special done with it above that. Lastly, this is a New Orleans based chain restaurant with several Chicago area restaurants that do not even come close to offering the “Chicago Steakhouse” experience that this requester seeks. I find it hard to accept anyone rating any RC location over any Morton’s location period.

            2. I usually go to Hugo's (same kitchen as Gibson's) for the atmosphere and very good steak. Some consider The Chicago ChopHouse to be the best...or is it David Burke's? The very best steak I've ever eaten is at Pete Miller's in New Orleans...there's a location in Evanston, Illinois (a 20 minute drive North of downtown Chicago) or at a couple of steakhouses in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentinian steak is incredible. If you love steak so much then you owe yourself a trip to Buenos Aires.

              1. I would highly recommend AGAINST Morton's. The porterhouse and filet were indeed large pieces of meat; however, they lacked the flavor of even decent steakhouses. I don't know of an amazing location, although am new to the city. There was an article in the Tribune about "designer beef" recently; don't know if it's pure hype or not.

                Also, definitely second to the BA recommendation. Buenos Aires is amazing, especially in the San Telmo area for neighborhood steak locations. Others I've found in addition to those you've mentioned are Hy's in Toronto and Buenos Aires in New York (opened a couple of months ago on 6th st and is planning on serving Argentine beef once the export ban is lifted).

                1. One more note: I really like David Burke's because I am a big dry aged fan and I think they are doing it better than anyone. Smith & Wollensky and Capital Grille also do dry aged and do it well, but I prefer DB's, especially their more creative sides. Here are some more thoughts on DB's: http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

                  Of course, Chicago has turned into more of a wet aged beef town (Morton's, Keefer's, Gibson's, Chop House, etc.), and while I enjoy wet aged beef (Keefer's my favorite of the above), I like the more intense flavor of dry aged.

                  By the way, DB's has a porterhouse, but I don't know if they serve it for less than 2 persons.

                  1. I cannot say enough great things about Capito Grille as crazy as it seems, it is a truly GREAT steakhouse

                    1. Great suggestions so far, thanks to you all.

                      Would the responses change if I amended the question slightly? Which place would give me the penultimate "Chicago steakhouse" experience?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: bakersjoe

                        What would be so special about the second to last "Chicago steakhouse" experience?

                        1. re: jesteinf

                          Hehehe... I used to misuse that same word.

                          1. re: YoYoPedro

                            Oops, that's embarassing. Why does my wife find this so amusing?

                            Okay, let's try again. I'd like the ULTIMATE (archetypal, quintessential*) Chicago steakhouse experience.

                            *Thanks, MrRisotto.

                      2. If Luger's, Bern's and RC are only "acceptable" then I can only concede that your taste is very different from that of the rest of world. Exactly what element is missing which deems these steaks merely average and not great? Have you ever actually had a steak which you thought was great? Was it at home or does there actually exist a restaurant which is so vastly superiour to the world's greatest steak-houses?

                        S. Lami

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Snahlami

                          Among other things, Luger's and Bern's both dry age their beef to a much greater extent than almost anyone else in the country. The porterhouses at both are aged something like 7-10 weeks. In most other steakhouses all steaks are wet aged, and, when they're dry aged, it's for 3-4 weeks max.

                          Both steakhouses are also excellent about paying very careful attention to the desired doneness. Bern's even adds some levels of doneness on the menu to give greater granularity.

                          To the OP: I still think you should go to Primehouse, even though it might not be the quintessential Chicago steakhouse experience. For that, it's hard to get more authentic and old-school than Gene and Georgetti's. But, unless you're famous or a friend of someone powerful, you'll probably get an awful seat and indifferent service.

                          For clubby atmosphere and genial service without the power and wealth, try Saloon or Gibson's.

                          1. re: Snahlami

                            Okay, I'm taking some literary license with the hyperbole. Or I guess it would be more of an intentional understatement (hypo-bole?)

                            I LOVE the steak experiences at the above-mentioned restaurants. Simply the thought of Luger's, Bern's, and RC in BH induces immediate involuntary salivation in me. Pavlov, eat your heart out.

                          2. One comment would be to disqualify the following based on the fact they are not of Chicago origin and therefore do not deliver the uber-Chicago steakhouse experience:

                            Smith & Wollensky - NY
                            Ruth Chris - New Orleans

                            I've caught grief from this crowd before on this topic, but the Original #1 Morton's on Rush St is a Chicago steakhouse landmark and still serves up a great steak. It's sort of like going on a pilgrimage to steak Mecca. These guys raised the bar like never before, sort of like Uno's did for Pizza.

                            I recently did a back to back tasting where I went to both Gibson's & Morton's on the same night and ordered the exact same cut of meat (the Chicago bone-in Ribeye, and since you wanted to know a great of cut steak that screams Chicago, well that's it) and both my wife and I thought Morton's edged out Gibson's that night.

                            Gibson's offers a wild party bar atmosphere, while Morton's is more sedate and club like.

                            If you end up at either place I doubt you will be disappointed.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: abf005

                              I'm not big on Morton's or Pizzeria Uno, I find them both highly overrated. Do Chicagoans actually ever go to Uno? I went with some out of town guests who insisted on going, it was like going to the Bubba Gump Shrimp of pizza.

                            2. I personally think you should try two or three of everyone's various recommendations (if you have the time and the money) and give us a review. You obviously love your steak, which is a hotly debated topic here in the Chi.

                              When I was in NYC I used to love Smith & Wollensky - I've heard it's good here to but have never been and that probably won't interest you.

                              I personally love the Erie Cafe - what does everyone else think of this place. I don't usually get steak there.

                              I went to Carmichaels (SP?) like four years ago and thought it was good - have not been back but I have frends who tell me that it's the best steak place in town.

                              I went to the Chicago Chop House once but thought that the food was just OK considering how expensive it was. I absolutely loved the salad - super fresh iceberg supper club style with home made french dressing.


                              1. I'm with you JW, I just had lunch at the Chicago Chophouse, and I have to say it was very mediocre. Maybe lunch is not their gig? I dunno. But, I would say that my steak was select grade beef at prime grade pricing! I would equate it to Outback, it was about that bad. I do not recommend this place at all, and I'll be hard pressed to ever return.

                                Morton's is far better, even if you've read otherwise here.

                                1. Wow, I would like to have your level of steak education. I think if you are looking for the "archetypal" or even "quintessentially chicago" steak house, you should head for Morton's and Gibson's, since most of the other great places are not really from Chicago. I have to say that Chicago influence aside, my favorite place of a steak is in the bar area of Smith and Wollensky - for the view of the river, the slightly less stuffy atmosphere and in no small part because whoever cooks the meat there is an absolute genius at getting it cooked exactly as I asked.

                                  1. Primehouse. I grew up in Chicago and ate at every place mentioned so far. I currently live in dallas and have eaten at every good steak place here. It is perhaps the best Ive had. Primehouse has great steaks, great appitizers, great desserts, great service. Its reasonably priced for the food and location. It is loud and crowded but that is part of the chicago experience you seek.

                                    1. Here's a tip for the op (you might already know this, but it has helped me in the past).

                                      Since the the state of "doneness" is extremely important to you, no matter where you go, I suggest that you tell the waiter you would like the steak "very rare, what the French call 'blu.'" If the waiter doesn't understand what you mean by that term, tell him to find someone on the restaurant staff who does. "Rare," "medium-rare," etc. are terms that allow for a wide range of interpretation (altho I find that "rare" in the Midwest is closer to "blu" than it is on the East Coast).

                                      1. For the ultimate (or quintessential, or whatever) Chicago steakhouse experience -- Gene & Georghetti or Gibson's.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: RMA

                                          I've been to Gene & Georgetti three times. Each time, I wondered why I returned. But someone in our party wanted to go each time. I'll not make that same mistake again. Next time they can go without me or I'll do my best to lobby them to go somewhere else. It's not that it was horrible, it just wasn't that good. There was nothing memorable about it, other than the fact that it was SOOOOO underwhelming on so many levels.

                                          1. re: RMA

                                            Right on! Gibson's takes my vote! I sometimes think Gibson's waiters know what you want, how you want it, while looking at you! All all of us like something a bit different. I have never had anything but a fabulous experience there. We are no longer in Chicago, for a couple of years, but if and when I am back...I am heading to Gibson's. We used to do 'steak-a-thons' meaning steak after steak, night after night, and I hold this place dear!

                                          2. I'm no fan of steakhouses, but from reputation, I would think Gibson's to be the ultimate Chicago steak experience.

                                            It certainly has the atmosphere and clientelle you would expect, its a real Chicago place, and the Viagra Triangle location seems well suited to a big steak meal. I've enjoyed my trips there, and I agree about the fine service, but like I said, I'm no steak connoisseur. I may have even ordered a salad once (GASP!). I'm also a fan of RL which is run by the same organization.

                                            I'm suprised that so few Chiagoans have mentioned it, and especially suprised that people would recommend out of town national chains as the best Chicago steak.

                                            Is there something I am missing? Is it all just hype?

                                            1. I agree with Jesdamala about Gibson's waiters. They seem to know what I want before I do. I think it would fit the bill as a quintessential Chicago steakhouse.

                                              Has anyone tried Drake Bros. in the Drake Hotel?

                                              1. My favorite steakhouse is Saloon, but the "quintessential Chicago steak house" definitely is Gibsons.

                                                1. Has anybody tried Custom House yet? I haven't, but based on Shawn's other restaurants which I love it's probably worth a shot. I was a steakman at the Ruth's Chris in Nashville for awhile and always thought their steaks were average. Worked at Outback for awhile as well, believe it or not and thought their steaks were better. I haven't had a lot of steak in Chicago, but actually my experience at Wildfire was better than I expected.

                                                  1. Custom House is outstanding! It isn't a steakhouse per se, but rather a fine-dining restaurant that focuses on meat (they have a few fish dishes, too). Having said that, their steaks are very high quality (including, sometimes, beef from the acclaimed Four Story Hill Farm). People used to ginormous classic steakhouse portions where the starters, sides and desserts tend to be scaled for 2+ people may be put off by CH's normal-sized courses. To me, it's just right.