Editor's note: The 21 Club series features Chicago restaurants that have been around for over 21 years. They must be doing something right, so we'll visit them and see why.
Gene and Georgetti
As far as steakhouses go, Gene and Georgetti is Chicago's oldest steakhouse (founded in 1941), so you'd think that for the first column I'd be feasting on a gargantuan slab of meat. But before this assignment, SE Chicago editor (Nick Kindelsperger) sat me down and said, "You have a budget." The words that I heard in my mind were, "No steak." I raised my tangerine-sized fists to the air in defiant agony, but that didn't make the budget any bigger. Life is hard.
Located at Illinois and Wells, Gene and Georgetti's exterior kind of reminds me of a tavern from the Old West, except instead of cowboys throwing chairs at each other's faces, you have old and/or rich people. I was hoping for cowboys, but I was sorely disappointed, and cried for about half an hour before I ate my meal.
The dress code is "business casual," so I donned what I like to call my one single "business casual camouflage" outfit, including my only pair of dress pants and a tie (wow!), called up a buddy, and we headed out. When we walked in, the waitstaff was patiently waiting for patrons to start trickling in for dinner. The interior lighting was dark, the bar was wood paneled, and everything just felt sort of old and never-renovated.
We were kindly escorted to the back by a very serious looking waiter and perused the menu. Soon we got a loaf of crusty bread and those dry cracker-like breadsticks, with butter oddly topped with ice cubes to keep it cool.
We ordered the Garbage Salad ($18.75) and the Chicken Vesuvio ($25.75). (Damn you budget!) The waiters kindly brought out our salad separated onto two plates. While there was no description on the menu of its ingredients, we were able to determine it had these things: iceberg lettuce, julienned salami, julienned mozzarella, red onion, garlic, celery, radish, tomato, marinated roasted red pepper, and an enormous cold shrimp on top. It was tossed in a bright acidic olive-oil vinaigrette.
I'm not terribly fond of iceberg lettuce in salad, and by the time we got it, most of the lettuce was wilted because it was overdressed. I even got the heel of the lettuce in my salad, but I shrugged it off. It is called Garbage Salad, after all. Otherwise the rest of it was okay, and that monster shrimp was good. For a salad that cost nearly $20, I was hoping for a little more, but it's basically your usual antipasto salad with a silly-pants name.
When the Chicken Vesuvio came out, the smell of garlic, chicken, and oil filled the entire dining room. You might not know this, but Chicken Vesuvio is a classic Chicago dish, invented here; it's a roasted chicken cooked in a ton of garlic, olive oil, white wine, parsley, and oregano. It's always topped with a heaping pile of oven-roasted potatoes as a starchy component. Ours was no different.
Normally I don't care much for ordering chicken, but when it arrived sizzling, I became excited. The cubed potatoes were wonderfully crispy and golden on the outside, the insides piping hot and pillowy. When doused in the garlic, oil, and white wine sauce, they were a guilty pleasure.
The chicken itself was remarkably crispy on the outside with dark golden skin, salted and peppered well, and honestly on target. The meat of the chicken was moist with a concentrated chicken flavor from being roasted. It was what you want great roast chicken to be. Salted, flavorful, with crisp skin and moist. The food rests in a lot of olive oil at the bottom of the plate, so to get it at its best, move it to a different plate so it doesn't get soggy. You can always sop up the oil with the bread too if you're feeling frisky.
Let's face it; this isn't a fancy dish by any means. But even though I was in an old place, with old people, and didn't even though I didn't get the steak, I didn't mind—that much.
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