In my travels, I'm fortunate to be able to try some world class steakhouses across the Midwest. Kansas City, Minneapolis and Omaha have their share of places to get a great steak, but Chicago is really the king when it comes to full service, top notch steakhouses. And I've had the humble pleasure of eating at a lot of them over the years. One place that has been on my radar to try, but haven't until recently, was Gibsons Steakhouse. Over the course of a two week period, I had the opportunity to try two of the three Gibsons around the Chicagoland area.
Gibsons Steakhouse dates back to 1990 when partners Steve Lombardo and Hugo Lalli opened their first restaurant in the Gold Coast section of downtown Chicago. Times were tough over the first couple years with the pair needing limited partnerships to help keep the doors open. However, the restaurant began to gain a following with not only the locals, but with out-of-towners looking for a first class steak. In 1997, the pair opened Hugo Frog's Bar and Fish House next door to Gibsons on Rush Street. Ten years after opening the first Gibsons Steakhouse location, they opened a second location in the Doubletree Hotel in suburban Rosemont, near O'Hare International Airport. In 2012, they opened a third Gibsons in west suburban Oak Brook, IL. In all, the Gibsons Restaurant Group runs the Gibsons Steakhouses, Hugo Frog's Bar and Fish House with locations in Chicago, Naperville, and Des Plaines (inside the Rivers Casino), Ristorante Quartino in downtown Chicago, and Luxbar in Chicago, described to be an "upscale neighborhood saloon." Gibsons has resisted expansion outside of Chicago, turning down overtures from upscale casino/hotels in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Gibsons is Chicago, through and through.
During the AXPONA high-end audio show that was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Rosemont earlier this year (see map), my colleagues John and Todd had flown in to help with set up and manning some of the displays during the show. We had a long day of trying to dial in a pair of the Focal Grande Utopia EM loudspeakers and it was getting late. We were tired and hungry, and we just decided to walk to the Gibsons location in the hotel. Even though it was past 9 p.m., there was still a pretty good sized crowd in Gibsons - a very popular restaurant with conventioneers and travelers staying in the area. But we were able to get a seat at a table right away.
Conservative elegance is what I'd call the decor at Gibsons. Heavy on the wood paneling and with hardwood floors and ceilings, the dining room at Gibsons can get pretty loud. But the room is also understated so that even a person dining in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt can feel comfortable.
Gibsons serving staff is also well-known for their outgoing personalities and "can-do" attitude. Our server for the evening, a nice young guy whose name I didn't get, was definitely one of those. As we were looking through our menus, our waiter brought out a tray of uncooked steaks and a lobster tail to give us a visual of what they had to offer at Gibsons. The restaurant features U.S.D.A. Prime Black Angus beef grown from sustainable farms throughout the Midwest. The cattle are fed corn for 120 days, then the beef cuts are aged 40 days before serving.
Gibsons' signature steak is called the W.R. Chicago Cut - it's a 22 oz. bone-in ribeye steak named after former Chicago Tribune food critic William "Bill" Rice who loved the steaks at Gibsons. The steakhouse also features a bone-in filet and a bone-in strip steak. In addition to a number of other cuts of beef, Gibsons also features seafood, baby back ribs, and spit-fire grilled chicken. Like many steakhouses the stature of Gibsons, they feature large sides that can be shared at the table.
Since it was late and I didn't want to get completely full before I went to bed, I ordered up the 10 oz. filet - rare. I asked our server if they could put some peppercorns on the steak and he said it would be no problem. I also got a wedge salad that was described as "loaded" with chopped tomatoes, real bacon bits and their homemade blue cheese dressing.
My colleague, John, went with the 13 oz. New York strip. He also took my cue and got his "au-poivre" style with crushed peppercorns. Todd, on the other hand, stepped up to the plate and ordered the 19 oz. New York strip also with the crushed peppercorns. For sides, we got a small order of the sauteed spinach and mushrooms with garlic chunks, and a side of sauteed button mushrooms.
For wine that evening, I found a reasonably priced bottle of the Franciscan cabernet on Gibsons' wine list. Actually, I thought the prices on their wine list weren't that bad. The Franciscan cabernet is one of my "go-to" wines when I pick something out for a nice wine to have with dinner at home.
My salad came out first and it was a pretty good wedge salad. The dressing had a nice forward blue cheese taste and there was plenty of the dressing to be had. As I expected it would be, it was a very good wedge salad.
Our steaks made it out still sizzling on the hot plate from the 1800 degree broiler that they use at Gibsons to quickly cook the steaks while sealing in the juices. My filet was served with a small side of hollandaise sauce and I asked it I could get some fresh ground horseradish. Within seconds a small bowl of very punguent fresh horseradish showed up.
My steak was tender, cooked exactly to the red cool center that I wanted. The crushed peppercorns gave a nice spicy bite to the taste of the steak but were far from overpowering. The meat was tender, flavorful and juicy. It was an excellent steak all the way around.
John's New York strip was equally as good. After the framed his steak for me with a couple pieces of bread that was served with the meal, he said after his first couple of bites, "Oh, man. Good call on the peppercorns, bro. This is an awesome steak."
Todd's stomach was definitely bigger than his eyes. He couldn't believe how big the 19 oz. New York strip was. (Pictured above right.) Our plates were all the same size and you can see how Todd's steak almost goes from side to side in the inner indention of the plate. He, too, said his steak was very good, but he was going to have trouble finishing it. Todd's from Canada and he still has trouble converting ounces to grams in his head. He said laughingly, "Oh, man. 19 ounces. That's over a POUND of MEAT! What was I thinking?" Still, he made a significant dent in his steak and after I told him that our hotel rooms had a mini-fridge in the room, he got what he couldn't eat wrapped up for a snack sometime through the weekend.
Two weeks later I was at the Gibsons in Oak Brook. (see map) I put on a new dealer in the western suburbs and I did training for the staff whose store is located not far from the Gibsons near Oak Brook Mall. We convened after training for some serious beef eating. The menu at the Oak Brook location is somewhat similar to the Rosemont location in terms of steaks and seafood, but they also had a 33 ounce Wagyu "Tomahawk" bone-in ribeye for $100 bucks on the menu.
We started out with some appetizers before ordering the meal and the Oak Brook Gibsons had a sesame-seared tuna appetizer that was just excellent. I had a wedge salad once again and it was as good as the one that I had at the Rosemont Gibsons. One this visit, I had a bone-in ribeye - medium rare. It was cooked perfectly and had that great aged U.S.D.A. prime cut taste. Everyone was happy with their steaks.
One of the guys who worked for my new dealer had a fine dining restaurant background and he found a wine on the wine list that he wholeheartedly recommended - the Heitz cabernet from 2006. I wasn't familiar with the Heitz vineyard, but I will have to say that it was a wonderful wine. It was a little expensive, but it had a great body to it and was a great compliment to the steaks.
Our waiter for the evening, Jon, was one of the typical Gibsons waiters with the outgoing personality, had a great sense of humor, but was professional and efficient in his service. After we'd finished our meal, he came over with a piece of one of their massive desserts for the table to share - no charge, on the house. This is a piece of their chocolate hazelnut cake. One piece. We set the salt and pepper shakers next to the plate to put in perspective how huge this piece of cake really was. There was no way the six of us could eat the whole thing. One of the guys ended up taking what was left home with him to share with his girlfriend. Jon said, "Oh, man! She's gonna love you for this!"
In the tradition of the finest steakhouses in Chicago - and in the Midwest, for that matter - Gibsons is fully guilty of excellence for the quality of food and service that they offer. Both locations were absolutely wonderful. I feel blessed working for a company that allows me to splurge on meals like this from time to time and it's easy to see why Gibsons is one of the favorite places for steaks for locals and business travelers, alike.