When you have been around for almost 40 years, you don’t get reviewed very
often. Today Pat Bruno wrote the following review for Eli’s the Place for Steak
in the Chicago Sun Times. We certainly agree with him that “we need restaurants
like this that offer comfort without getting cute.”

 

ELI’S THE PLACE FOR STEAK / ***

April 22, 2005

BY PAT BRUNO

 

I can’t imagine how much more there is to say or write about Eli’s the Place
for Steak. Well, now that this venerable Chicago steakhouse is about to go away,
that the building that housed the restaurant for all these years is being
wrecked by that big iron ball, I felt I should write about it one more time, and
to bid it a fond farewell before the closing scheduled for sometime this
summer.

Few restaurants survive as long as Eli’s has. What makes a restaurant stick?
Consistency is one thing. The ability to please customers day in and day out,
year in and year out. It’s a lot harder to make it work than one might
imagine.

Over the years, Eli’s has been a consistently good place to dine. It never
went over the top or got too crazy.

There is the ongoing sushi craze, which for makes a steakhouse seem like a
fish out of water. Then there are all of those restaurants that are wannabe
nightclubs (and vice versa), magnets for the young and eclectic, where it’s as
much about fashion as it is about food.

That’s fine. I would be the first to admit that with so many new restaurants
popping up, Eli’s fell off my culinary radar screen. I knew it was still viable,
but I never got around to going there a whole lot.

So it was off to Eli’s. I needed a fix, and I felt a need to give it my kind
of sendoff. And, not so surprisingly, I had a great time. No surprise, because I
know that owner Marc Schulman not only knows how to fashion great cheesecakes,
but takes pride in the legacy of the place and the name on the sign over the
door.

The Eli’s story can be traced back to 1940 when Eli Schulman opened Eli’s
Ogden Huddle on Chicago’s West Side. He soon followed with Eli’s Stage
Delicatessen on Oak Street and Eli’s the Place for Steak in 1966. It was there
that Eli created his now famous cheesecake, which made its debut on July 4,
1980, at the first Taste of Chicago.

In the scheme of things, and the way restaurant pricing has been escalating,
Eli’s is a good deal. For example, consider this from the prix-fixe part of the
menu: Soup (chicken and matzo ball) or salad (mixed greens with balsamic
dressing). Choice of entree: strip loin stir fry or oven roasted salmon or
chicken Vesuvio. Dessert is cheesecake. The price is $25. Another prix-fixe deal
offers similar choices, with the entrees being filet mignon or boneless ribeye.
The price is $39.

OK, so these deals are for the early birds (5-6:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5-6
p.m. Friday-Saturday), but if you are off to a play or a movie, it’s a good
arrangement.

Steaks and meat are the foundation of the menu — filet, T-bone, bone-in rib
chop, Wagyu, New York strip, double-cut pork chop, rack of lamb. But there is
more. When was the last time you saw chateaubriand for two on a menu? Or calves’
liver with sauteed onions? And, that Chicago classic, shrimp de Jonghe?

Eli’s is still working with that classy old supper house tradition that
requires some type of relish tray up front. Shortly after the bread basket
appeared, a freebie plate filled with velvety chicken liver pate, cucumbers and
carrots hit the table. Openers included a fine-tasting maple-cured gravlax of
salmon with potato pancake, homemade apple sauce and orange-honey creme fraiche.
Fine eating from one end of the plate to the other, the gravlax marvelously
flavorful, and the citrus-flavored creme fraiche an excellent complement to the
salmon.

Fine chicken soup here. Deep chicken flavor in the broth that was riddled
with chunks of carrots. The matzo ball (bigger than a golf ball) hulking in the
soup was as light as a feather.

A salad of note is the Bibb lettuce affair. Tender leaves of lettuce were
arranged with chips of smoked bacon and one of the classiest dressings of all
time — green goddess. Nice going. My alternate choice would be the Iceberg
wedge with Russian dressing. A couple of very good entrees crossed our table one
night. The bone-in rib chop “Cowboy Max.” Excellent steak (Eli’s uses Allen
Brothers for its steaks, one of the best purveyors of beef around). Rich, deep
flavor, buttery and beautiful.

Right up there with the steak for delicious enjoyment was the double-cut
organic chop. The menu states that the chop gets a brown sugar brining, a
technique that jump-starts the flavor of the pork but doesn’t overwhelm it with
sweetness. A honey-mustard and tamarind glaze gave the chop another kick of
flavor.

Unless Schulman finds a new location for Eli’s, I figured that this would be
my last chance to have the whitefish the way it is done here. Nothing special,
mind you, just broiled and served with a properly tangy lemon sauce and crispy
capers. I am not a big whitefish fan, but I am good to go with this version.

A la carte on the veggies and potatoes. Skip the creamed spinach with leeks;
it is overdone flavor-wise. Don’t skip the pan-roasted bok choy — it’s
wonderful. On the spud end of things, the “famous” hand-cut cottage fries are a
must. These are potatoes that actually taste like potatoes. The equally famous
potato pancake is another delicious option.

Cheesecake is just about it for dessert. But the choices and flavor
combinations are amazing. Bailey’s, tiramisu, pineapple upside down, turtle,
apple Bavarian and lots more. Turtle is the way to go — gooey, rich, lush,
beautiful.

I am giving Eli’s 2-1/2 stars for its food, and a half star for being Eli’s
and giving us some good food and good times for all these years.

Pat Bruno is a local free-lance writer, critic and author.

 

 

IN A BITE

 

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215 E. Chicago; (312) 642-1393

 

 

PRICES:

Appetizers, $8-$12; entrees, $18-$39; desserts, $6.59-$8.

 

HOURS:

Lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner, 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday;
5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

 

WHEELS:

Garage adjacent with validation for reduced price. Wheelchair accessible.

 

TRY:

Salmon gravlax, chicken and matzo ball soup, bone-in rib chop, double-cut
pork chop, cheesecake (any flavor will do it).

 

IN A BITE:

Sturdy yet creative menu with a lot of new ideas fashioned by chef
Michael Tsonton. Starched tablecloths and napkins, casually comfortable,
pleasantly quiet. If a new location is found for Eli’s, I might suggest that it
be cloned. We need restaurants like this that offer comfort without getting
cute.

Pat Pourri

April 22, 2005

BY PAT BRUNO

 

 

Salad days: Green goddess
dressing is a mixture of mayonnaise, anchovies, tarragon vinegar, parsley,
scallions and garlic. It was created in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in the
1920s. The hotel chef named the dressing after English actor George Arliss
(above), who was staying at the hotel while appearing in the play “The Green
Goddess.” Arliss, so the story goes, had a robust appetite that was made more
robust by San Francisco’s great weather.

Saucy selection: One of
the more interesting aspects of Eli’s menu is the sauce and salt options that
you can pair with the steak of your choice. The sauce choices range from five
peppercorn to classic Hollandaise. The salt selection is all part of the gourmet
salt trend. Pick from an exotic range that goes from fleur de sel to Maldon
English Crystal Sea Salt. It’s all about flavor, but frankly, a great steak can
make it on its own