Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Morton's The Steakhouse - Miss Chicago Steakhouse for March

Great food in the western 'burbs.
Here we are back again for a review of another Chicago steak legend:  Morton's The Steakhouse. 

Previously I've written about Joe's, Keefer's, and Gibsons (this is the soundtrack in my head when I say the word "Gibsons").  Amy and I have gotten to go out with no kids once a month so far this year, and have enjoyed some great restaurants here in the fine city of Chicago.

Don't forget to click on links embedded in this story.  They are part of the writing.  Plus, some of them are funnyKinda.  See?  That last link is someone who's kinda funny.   All the photos except the ones I say aren't mine - are mine.

I'll never understand what sleeping pigs
have to do with a steakhouse.  Oh wait.  Read how
much I ate, then maybe it makes sense.
 This month we went to Morton's in Naperville. 

Some background information.  I've been to Morton's more than any place else on this list.  Amy and I have dined there on our anniversary the past 3 years, and for my birthday as well.  I've been accepted as a VIP by the establishment there for some reason, and I consider it my "home base" when it comes to finer dining.  A few members of the wait staff recognize us, and we are always treated like we're special.  We love the place. 

Saturday night was my birthday.  As a VIP, I received a very generous gift certificate in the mail about a week ago.  We had already decided on Morton's, but the extra C-note they threw my way didn't make me feel bad at all.  Not one bit.

I promised somewhere I would tell the tale of my induction into VIP status.  As I said, Amy and I are somewhat  frequent visitors.  I'm a generous tipper, because, well, because I am.  Last October when we went out for our anniversary, our server recognized us from previous visits.  Apparently, the VIP program is a process initiated by your server.  They recommend you, the staff reviews you, then you are selected.  Or so I was told by my boss's brother.  This is the fun part of the story.  He was in my boss's office big timing him about how he was a VIP, the membership procedure, all the free stuff you get, etc. etc.  He was really letting him have it about what a big shot he was.  I had just been initiated myself.  I listened to him go on and on (my boss and I share a wall/open door) about how exclusive a club it was.  When he was done, he walked through my office, and I said, "Were you talking about Morton's VIP?"  He replied, "Yeah."  I said, "See you at the shareholder's meeting."  He was a little deflated to know that I qualified for this "elite" club as well.  It was a nice moment. 

I had to crop this to remove the super secret phone
number.  It's far too dangerous to be in just
anyone's hands.
Anyway, I'm a VIP.  Which means that I have a card with a special phone number that gives me priority seating, free after dinner drinks, a magazine, and generous gifts throughout the year.  Apparently I can show this card at any Morton's in the country and get a table, no reservations necessary.  I'm NEVER going to do that, because it's obnoxious as hell, but it is fun to know that I could.  I am also allowed a locker for wine at the Naperville location with my name on it.  Yeah, I don't think a bottle of sparkling apple juice is going to work there, but it is a nice gesture. 

I'm getting off track.  I called the special phone number on my card and made my reservation.  After a bit, I asked if I needed to mention my VIP status.  The woman replied, "If your name hadn't come up in my database when you gave it to me, I would have asked how you got this number."  Nice.  I mentioned that it was my birthday, and she assured me we would have a great evening.  One of the things that I really enjoy about Morton's is the phone call you get the day before - reminding you of your impending reservation.  It's like a taste bud wake up call.  I was in a meeting on Friday when mine came, and I was instantly perked up thinking about gnawing on some prime steak the following evening. 

The menu.  Custom printed just for me.  And you. 
If you follow the procedure...
 One other thing - if you tell the person taking the reservation that it is a special occasion, you get a custom printed menu with your name on it, the event you're celebrating, then they come around and take your picture and give you it in a signed by all the staff holder.  There are two Kaylee's that work at Morton's in Naperville, but one spells it Kaileigh, and one spells it Kaily.  Weird.  Amy and I are papering a wall in Brady's room with these photos.  I kid. 

OK.  I think that clears up the stories.  Nuts and bolts time. 

Morton's in Naperville is in a relatively new development right off the Naperville Road exit from I-88.  It shares a parking lot with Maggiano's, The White Chocolate Grill, a Taco Fresco place and a few other retail locations.  It's suburban.  Very suburban.  The building is a brick facade with burgundy awnings over every window.  There is a small outdoor area off the entrance, accessible through the bar, but on March 5, yeah, not so many people out there.  A valet greets you at the door, opens it for you, and you are in a small entry vestibule.  There are magazine covers, etc., hung on the walls, all praising Morton's.  They're letting you know when you walk in that they kick ass.  Nothing wrong with that.  As you pass through the second door, you encounter the Maitre d' station on your right and the bar on your left.  Amy and I have waited in the bar on one occasion, and it was pleasant.  They've got sports on, the staff is attentive, and it's a quiet little steakhouse bar. 

The glass in the bar.  Lit by magic.
 We got to the place a few minutes before our reserved time, but were greeted by an enthusiastic hostess, and the Maitre d'.  I'm not sure what the guy's name is, but I have affectionately named him (WARNING:  SEXUALLY EXPLICIT NICKNAME COMING!) Handjob.  He always shakes your hand, has nothing but smiles, calls you "baby" and talks about how he "loves it" when you mention you've been here before, or that you're out without the kids, or that your grandmother just died.  OK, not so much with the dead grandma stuff, but the guy is pretty much a...handjob.  He loves everything.  I like him though.  No visit feels right if he's not there.  He showed us to our table, gave us our custom printed menus for the evening, and replaced Amy's white napkin with a black one.  It's a nice touch.  All the women get black napkins.  We assume it is for the lipstick stains, but it is a never-fail zen moment that we get on the way into our seats.  

The room is ringed with curved booths (you know the kind where you both wind up sitting next to each other) of white leather.  There are about 30 other tables spread throughout the middle, and 3 private rooms off to the side.  There is an ENORMOUS wine rack between the dining room and the bar, and there are wine bottles used as decorative devices throughout.  Cherry trim, alabaster lights.  You know.  A steakhouse.  There is one wall with photos of famous patrons, and you can see into the kitchen.  It's a typical fine dining kind of place.  Homey, yet elegant.

 We were greeted quickly by our server Matt, who asked if I needed to see the wine list.  When I informed him of my choice not to consume alcohol, he gave no sigh, no grunt, but smiled and said, "No problem.  What would you care for instead?"  Our bus boy cleared the two place settings that were no longer needed, filled our water glasses with, as Matt put it, "Naperville Tap," then brought out the first item in what would prove to be too many pieces of food for the author.  The bread.

Simpsons Reference:  I needed Marge to tell me
not to fill up on bread.

For those of you not familiar with Morton's, they bring you out a loaf of freshly baked bread, with crisped onion flakes on the outside.  It is the size of a dinner plate.  It is extremely tasty.  It's also A LOAF OF BREAD.  I love it.  Amy loves it.  Amy didn't want to eat much of it.  SO, I polished off the whole fucking thing.  Except for the small sliver Amy ate.  This was the beginning of my descent into a feeling I will describe mildly as "uncomfortable."  Less mildly, I would say, "Stuffed myself until I thought seriously about how I was going to handle it when I barfed all over the table."  VIP's get to do that.  I think.  I didn't test it, thank goodness, but it was touch and go there for a few moments. 

I didn't take this photo.  This is the meat tray. 
As we ate our bread, Matt brought over the tray of meats.  I love this part of the evening.  He showed us the filet, the porterhouse, the bone in ribeye, the NEW bone in filet, the strip (which he described as the house specialty) and the 48 ounce double porterhouse, a 2.5 inch thick behemoth meant to test a man's soul.  He also held up what can only be described as a small tree of broccoli, a potato which could also serve as a pee wee football, a rubber banded pile of asparagus that would weigh down a mule, and a 3.5 pound live lobster.  Not a fan of the lobster used as entertainment, but it was never going to end well for him/her anyway.  Amy and I had discussed it prior to coming, and since this visit was partly for you, the loyal reader, and partly for my birthday, we had decided we would order the Double Porterhouse, medium rare, since it is unique to Morton's.  It is carved tableside by the Maitre d', so we thought maybe we'd get a return visit from Handjob.  (WARNING:  SEXUALLY EXPLICIT JOKE COMING)  JOKE REDACTED FOR TASTE'S SAKE.  YOU MAKE UP YOUR OWN.

Yummy yummy soupy goodness.

We also ordered other items.  I ordered the Baked Five Onion Soup as an appetizer, and Amy ordered the Wedge Salad, which we split between us, because it's HALF A HEAD OF LETTUCE.  We also ordered Thousand island dressing.  For those keeping score, I've now eaten almost all the bread, ordered a big ass bowl of soup, and am going to eat a quarter head of lettuce.  Oh yeah, and we got the Baked Potato.  For two.  Because it is about as big as the meteor that Bruce Willis split in half in "Armageddon."  "Armageddon" is a terrible movie, but Steve Buscemi was brilliant in it.  For that matter, what hasn't he been great doing?  He was even good in "Airheads."  Am I drifting?  I'm drifting.

The first item to arrive was my soup.  Baked with a generous helping of swiss cheese over the top of the crock, along with a large wedge of bread inside, it is full of onions and oniony goodness.  It is a very tasty starter, the onions almost being liquid by the time they hit your mouth.  I've eaten it frequently at Morton's, and I can say it is among the best onion soups I've ever eaten. 

I polished that off as quickly as I could, then watched as our salads arrived.  Woohoo!  MORE FOOD!  The lettuce was crisp, the thousand island dressing was very well made; again, like Gibsons, it was not as good as Keefer's, but it was tasty.  There was egg and also some bacon on the salad.  It really cleansed my palate after the soup, and got me ready for the main course.  Morton's dishes are all first class.  From the soup right on down, you can taste the quality of every ingredient.  And as Handjob would say, "At these prices, what do you expect?"

Matt was very attentive as we ate our meal, refilling my Diet Coke frequently (filling more of my stomach), and getting plates out of our way, making sure everything tasted right, etc.  The wait staff at Morton's is top notch, and Matt was a reminder of just how good they are. 

Finally, after we finished our salads, the main event arrived.  The 3 pound steak and the 95 pound potato.  I'm kidding.  It was only 87 pounds.  When you get the baked potato at Morton's, they bring around one of those 3 bowl serving things.  I don't know what they're called.  This thing.  One bowl is filled with sour cream.  One is filled with bacon.  The last is filled with butter.  To call the staff generous with the butter is making the word generous sound cheap.  Put it this way.  My half of the potato had a half stick of butter on it.  No exaggeration.  No hyperbole.  No way I'm not going to enjoy the hell out of that.  Cooked to perfection, the potato is absolutely wonderful.  For a baked potato.  Amy had all three toppings on her half. 

Not a picture of our steak.  Didn't want to take a photo while it was being
carved.  Fred Flintstone not pictured.
Sure enough, Handjob arrived to cut the steak.  Basically, the Maitre d' cuts along the bone, removing both the filet and strip sides of the steak, then divides them in half, and places your plates in front of you.  It's a bit of show that is probably unnecessary, but what's the point of eating out at a nice place if there isn't a little something special along with it?  The filet side of our steak was enormous.  The strip side was big too, but there was a lot of filet.  I've mentioned before that I used to be strictly a porterhouse guy, because I could fill up on the strip side, then save the filet for the end as a kind of meat dessert.  I've since switched to ribeyes, but I wanted to have the show.  Foreshadowing, kids.  Foreshadowing

It is here that the evening hit a snag.  As we were perusing our menus, I had asked Amy several times if she was sure she wanted the double porterhouse.  Basically, I was trying to say I had changed my mind, but I didn't come out and say it.  I wanted to do this for you.  Pure and simple.  I regret that decision.  The problem with the big ass steak is that it doesn't really cook right close to the bone.  To get a medim rare on the rest of the steak, it needs to be removed from the broiler before the stuff furthest from the heat gets a chance to cook.  Therefore, what you get is a small section of beef that is so rare that it borders on raw.  It's tasty, but it's a little off putting.  Amy's portion of the strip also had a fairly large tendon in it, so that was a bummer as well.  The steak was cooked correctly where it was cooked, but the exterior was missing that char that I love so much.  My strip side was a strip steak.  I was reminded why I switched to ribeye.  Strip, while described as flavorful, just isn't.  The filet side was delicious.  Silky, soft, buttery, what have you.  It was a filet.  I'd eat filet exclusively if I thought it would fill me up, but it doesn't, so I don't.  Amy enjoyed her filet as well.  Again, the undercooked portions that were near the bone were off putting.  Kids, if you're going to Morton's - don't get the double porterhouse.  I've done it.  Many times.  I've also done the bone in ribeye.  Do that.  You'll be happier.  I promise. 

It's a chocolate cake with a molten center.  It's called
Molten Chocolate Cake.  Go figure.

Dessert.  I ordered my dessert along with my steak.  It has to be ordered then, because that's how long it takes to bake.  It is a signature dish called "Morton's Molten Chocolate Cake."  It is a bittersweet chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center.  It is served with a scoop of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream and it is delicious.  I recommend it wholeheartedly.  As these reviews have started collecting, I've started an Excel spreadsheet for when I'm done where I will rank certain facets of each place, and who has the best items of certain description.  Right now, Morton's molten cake is second for best dessert, behind the otherworldly Key Lime Pie from Joe's.  It's a bit like saying Willie Mays is the second best baseball player of all time, behind Babe Ruth.  It ain't like Mays was a slouch.  No shame in being second best if that's the standard to which you're aspiring.  Amy ordered the cheesecake.  It is the only item that is not made on premises.  It comes from a place called Jr.'s in Brooklyn.  Amy says it had won some award on some show she watched, and she was very happy with her dessert.

Amy's dessert.  I think she ate one or two more
bites and had enough.
 I also had a delicious cup of decaf with my dessert. 

That was too much.  By the end of my cake, my wife looked at me and asked me if I noticed that I was clutching the table with my right hand as I tried to finish off my cake.  I hadn't.  But I was.  I was full.  I mean FULL.  There was no more room for anything.  I had to stop drinking coffee, because it just wouldn't fit.  It was then that I contemplated the barfing all over the table thing.  Like I said, I didn't.  I was VERY uncomfortable though.  VERY. 

I'll sum up:  I had a loaf of bread, 4 or 5 Diet Cokes (watching my calories, apparently), a crock of soup covered in cheese, a quarter head of lettuce slathered in dressing, a half a potato the size of a baby's head, over a pound of steak, chocolate cake and a cup of coffee.  Gluttony.  Deadly sin.  GUILTY!!!!!

The rest:

Wait staff is great.  Friendly, personable, and prompt.  I love Morton's people. 

Ambience is beautiful.  Noisy, but not loud.  People are there to enjoy themselves, and they do.  

It's pricey.  Without the hundred dollar discount, we would have spent over two bills on our meal.  Dollar for dollar, I'll take Gibsons for that kinda dough.  I've loved the 40's style way I've referred to cash in this post.  Greenbacks. 

Don't do the double porterhouse.  It's tempting.  Don't do it.  Get an individual steak.  You'll be happier. 

Tums.  You will eat too much.  You will have no choice.

Well, that's it.  No angels this time.  Morton's is a prime steakhouse serving prime steaks that makes a special occasion extra special.  We go there frequently, and will continue to as we get older.  We had a very nice night out for my birthday.  Can't think of anyone I'd rather spend it with than my beautiful wife.

All you "Tommy Boys" - sing it:  Fat guy with a little wife.  Fat guy with a little wife.
NEXT MONTH:  David Burke's Primehouse - home of the 75 day aged ribeye.  Guess what I'm getting....


  1. i gave up meat for lent, and its blogs like yours that make me wish i was a Muslim, or better yet Buddhist. i should eat some 90 day aged ribeye when i am done, then i can say that both i and the meat were waiting for eachother...

  2. Most steakhouses I've been to will char/sear/high-broil your steak on request to get the outside that char that a lot of people like. I've never asked for it before at Mortons, but I'd imagine they'd do it, especially for a VIP? Maybe ask about it next time you go, even if you don't do the double porterhouse.

  3. As a 5 year bartender of Morton's I think you are spot on. I had to comment and thank you for the humor as well. Cheers