I was in Chicago for a weekend trade show earlier this year and I invited one of my dealers out for dinner on a Saturday night. I suggested a place that I'd known about for awhile, but hadn't been to - L. Woods Tap and Pine Lodge.
L. Woods Tap and Pine Lodge is modeled after a Northwoods supper club/steakhouse. And I was a bit surprised that it was under the Lettuce Entertain You umbrella of restaurants that restaurateur-extraordanaire Rich Melman has built up mainly in the Chicago area (along with restaurants in Las Vegas, Washington D.C., the Twin Cities, and Scottsdale, AZ). I realized that this was a Melman/L.E.Y. restaurant was when we walked in and saw a comical sign on the hostess stand that said something along the lines of "Rich Melman said to seat me right away." While I wasn't crestfallen that this was another Melman place, I knew that the place would be nice and comfortable - albeit a little whimsical and formulated - but it wouldn't be excellent. I've never run into a Melman/L.E.Y. restaurant that has been what I would call excellent. But there's so many of them that I probably haven't been to even half of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants over the years.
And it's a wonder that I didn't know that L. Woods was a Melman/L.E.Y. restaurant - it's been open for over 16 years near the corner of N. Lincoln Ave. and W. Touhy in Lincolnwood. (see map) Before L. Woods opened, the building housed another Melman restaurant - Bones - that primarily featured ribs and chicken. Bones had been in business for about 20 years before Melman retooled the place and opened L. Woods in late 1998.
We stood in the crowded and very nice bar area - known as Frank's Bar - waiting for a moment until they could get our table set up. The dark lit room was brightened only by some reduced-light can lights and from the flat panel televisions behind the bar. When our table was ready, the hostess guided us through the main dining area - a long room with wood accents and decorated with deer antler lights and framed pictures of old scenes and trophy fish from Northern Wisconsin/Minnesota. We were taken into a small back room that was possibly used as a small meeting/luncheon area most of the time except for when it got busy on the weekends. We were given menus and it wasn't long before our server, Jason, came over to greet us.
After Jason took our drink order, he came back with a complementary taste of their tomato pesto and chicken flat bread pizza appetizer. And it was all right - I wouldn't have ordered it as an appetizer. But as a little tease for their flat bread appetizers, it was fine.
The main items on the menu were steaks and seafood - exactly as you find on most Northwoods supper club menus. It wasn't a long menu at L. Woods - they only featured about four or five each of seafood or steak entrees. Continuing the tradition that started with Bones in the 70's, L. Woods also had chicken and rib dinners, as well. They also featured soups and salads, and sandwiches and burgers on the dinner menu.
After ordering soup for our starters - a good, but somewhat salty mushroom beef barley for me and tomato bisque for my guest that came with a small loaf of a wonderful house-baked onion bread - we were served our dinners for the evening. I went with the Saturday night special, the prime rib. I got the 16 ounce cut and asked Jason if they could find as rare of a cut as possibly. This was more medium rare, but that was fine with me. It was actually pretty lean as far as prime rib goes with not much marbling. A side came with it and I got the garlic mashed potatoes. It also came with creamy horseradish sauce and I asked if I could get some real ground horseradish. Jason brought some out, but it was pretty pedestrian in taste compared to other fresh horseradishes that I've had.
My guest went with the ribs and chicken combo. I didn't want to say that I didn't think the chicken and ribs would be good when he ordered, but he pretty much said that the ribs were dry and the chicken was pretty bland. He got some broccoli on the side and the crowns were mushy and overcooked. He didn't think much of his dinner, disappointed that the ribs were overcooked and the chicken was just so-so.
I was happy enough with my prime rib. The cut of meat was flavorful and juicy. It had been a long time since I'd gotten prime rib, but this piece of meat told me that I shouldn't wait too long for the next time. It was well above average for a piece of prime rib. The garlic mashed potatoes were just all right - there didn't seem to be much garlic in them. But I was much more focused on the prime rib than the garlic mashed potatoes.
Even though my guest was less than thrilled with his ribs and chicken, I was happy enough with my prime rib. Jason's service was all right - he seemed a little forced with some of his mannerisms. The atmosphere was laid back and the decor was comfortable. Even though L. Woods is a Lettuce Entertain You concept restaurant it did it's best to capture the essence of a Northwoods supper club - only one that is smack in the middle of Chicagoland. (Photo courtesy of Check, Please! on WTTW-TV)