J. Alexander's is a chain of upscale American contemporary restaurants with nearly 30 locations across the eastern part of the United States. I've eaten at the one in Kansas City (Overland Park - see map) before and was very impressed with the food. I recently had lunch at the one in Chicago on Clybourn Ave. (see map).
J. Alexander's started in 1991 in Nashville under the umbrella of the Volunteer Capital Corporation. Volunteer Capital was headed by Jack C. Massey, a successful venture capitalist who took Kentucky Fried Chicken public in the 60's. Volunteer Capital was, at one time, the largest Wendy's franchiser in the nation. They've since sold off all of their Wendy's properties. Massey died a year before J. Alexander's opened their doors.
J. Alexander's decor in the Kansas City location is similar to many of the upscale steakhouses that you find in the Midwest, lots of dark wood paneling and low lighting. The decor in the Chicago location is more of a contemporary styling with metallic fixtures and pinpoint lighting interspersed with wood paneling.
I took a couple of guys from one of my dealers in Chicago to lunch at J. Alexander's a while back. They seated us in one of those half-moon booths that I detest, but being that it was lunchtime there weren't any tables available other than two-seaters. Oh, well...
The menu at J. Alexander's is varied with steaks, seafood, sandwiches and pasta. I did notice that the menu's are different between the one in Chicago and the one in Kansas City. The entrees are sold singularly and you can order side dishes that vary from fries to rice to something called MBC Cole Slaw, which is cole slaw topped with crumbles of Maytag Bleu Chesse. They also have a side called Not Your Ordinary Mac and Cheese.
I had the lunch special that day - a grilled and blackened Mahi Mahi filet and since I grew up where Maytag Bleu Cheese is made, I had to go with the MBC Cole Slaw. One of the other guys also got the Mahi Mahi special and the other went with the Tuna Burger - freshly ground Ahi tuna pattied up and fried in olive oil. Both of them ordered up the Mac and Cheese as their side dish.
My fish was cooked perfectly. I asked for it a little more spicy and it was just right. I wasn't overly impressed with the MBC Cole Slaw, but it was pretty good, nonetheless.
The guys' Mac and Cheese was pretty interesting. It's basically baked macaroni and cheese with a bread crust topping. They gave me a bite and it was pretty flavorful.
I've eaten at the J. Alexander's in Kansas City two or three times. I had a steak there one time and it was as good as any steak at any good steakhouse that I've had. The food I had at the one in Chicago was every bit as good as the one in Kansas City.
I normally don't like chains, but J. Alexander's is not like most of the other restaurant chains in America. Each location has some autonomy with its own little signature and character. It's definitely upscale with prices being a little higher than most chains, but it's worth it.
(Update - This J. Alexander's location closed in February of 2013. There are still two locations in the Chicago area - one in Oak Brook and another up in Northbrook.)