Today we take a look at three suburban chain restaurants sporting Western themes and American steak-and-seafood menus.There's Claim Jumper, a family-oriented concept in Lombard whose Gold Rush motif is validated by the stampede of customers at the front door; and Redstone American Grill, a rugged-looking outdoorsy restaurant in Oakbrook Terrace that's extremely popular with the after-5 set. Finally, we head to Glenview to Ted's Montana Grill, owned in part by mogul Ted Turner, serving bison from Turner's own ranch.
Hitch up yer wagon; we're a-goin' prospecting!
No doubt there will be more locations of these chains eventually, but for now my praises and complaints pertain to just these three spots.
If you visit one of these joints in Wichita, you're on your own.
Show up at this Lombard newcomer any night around 7 p.m., and you'll be in for a wait. I strolled in on a rainy Wednesday and had to hang around for 45 minutes. So make a reservation, whatever the time or day.
The restaurant is impressive looking, a sea of huge timbers bound by iron straps and huge vaulted ceilings. Walls are hung with black-and-white photos of mine entrances, grizzled prospectors and the like. To complete the motif, waitresses are adorned with gold-colored sheriff's badges, an extremely silly touch. Standing in contrast is the open kitchen, a gleaming oasis of spotlessly clean stainless steel.
The appetizer list is like a stroll down memory lane: Remember mozzarella sticks? Remember potato skins? The Buffalo chicken wings are passable, the crab cakes pretty good (thanks to a hint of poblano peppers) and the nacho platter a gloppy mess best left alone.
The menu includes a hefty selection of sandwiches and burgers; among the latter is the Widow Maker Burger, loaded up with so many ingredients you'll be lucky to taste the meat. Stick with the less-decorated versions. Steaks and rotisserie entrees are on the pricey side; the $21.95 price on the half-rack of pork ribs seems designed to ensure you'll order the $25.95 full rack.
The ribs-and-chicken combo wasn't bad; I found the meat overly tender, but some folks like them that way. We tried steaks on a couple of visits, but "medium-rare" kept arriving "medium well."
Our extremely cheerful hostess one night asked my sons their ages and looked surprised at the answer. "I thought you guys were around 15!" she said. Just what a college sophomore and a high school senior want to hear. A little tip for the future: Never discuss ages with your customers unless you're carding them.
This Oakbrook Terrace restaurant is on fire, just about literally. A couple of open gas fireplaces greet you before the restaurant's entrance; there's a large fireplace inside the dining room and one or two fireplaces on the spacious outdoor patio. Even the display kitchen boasts a wood-burning grill and a rotisserie.
These flames are drawing a great many west-suburban moths. The restaurant is constantly busy, and on pleasant evenings the outdoor patio is crammed with young professionals sipping wine and munching appetizers. Full outdoor seating is available but hard to come by; fortunately, waiters working the standing-room area will bring you food as well as drink, and there are plenty of little niches where you can rest an elbow or a plate.
The appetizer menu is actually rather small. There are decent chicken wings with a chipotle-ranch dipping sauce, and well-made squares of sesame-crusted, seared tuna (barely seared ahi may be a cliche among independent restaurants, but it's practically cutting-edge cuisine in Chain World). We had the best luck from Redstone's flatbread pizzas, which arrive with blistered-edge crusts, cut into squares for easy sharing.
Among entrees, the barbecued ribs actually taste slightly of smoke, and the spit-roasted chicken is fine. Prime rib is offered only Thursdays-Saturdays, and it's worth the $22-$25 indulgence. And the Parmesan-crusted halibut? Genuinely delicious.
With starters hovering around the $10 mark and many entrees in the mid-$20s, Redstone isn't cheap night out. But portions are huge; even the fish (served with mashed potatoes) was more than I could finish.
Our waiter one night was incapable of describing any special without the preamble, "And tonight I also have," but he was otherwise attentive. Kudos to the fellow working the outdoor patio another night, who not only fetched us food and drinks but also volunteered which items would best suit our (minimal) elbow room.
Being an America's Cup winner, baseball owner, media mogul and philanthropist apparently doesn't keep Ted Turner busy enough, because he's also in the restaurant game these days.
His first Illinois foray is in Glenview; a Schaumburg location is due to open in the fall.
The interior combines Mission-style decor with more rugged touches, including a large bison head mounted on a wall. And there really is bison on the menu, some of which comes from Turner's ranch. Thus, steaks, and there are at least three cuts daily, are offered in beef and bison versions.
Bison meat is leaner and healthier than beef, so I feel like a spoilsport for pointing out that the beef steaks are tastier. But in general I'm not a fan of the steaks here, which are heavily seasoned with a special blend of eight ingredients (I'm told) and cooked in lemon butter. The seasoning dominates the meat--particularly the bison, which has a more delicate flavor to begin with.
Burgers are a much better bet, which explains why there are about 20 versions on the menu. The beef burgers are good (though mine was overcooked), and I liked the bison burger as well.
There are only a handful of appetizers, but the thick, battered onion rings, served with a horseradish dipping sauce, are addictive.
Service is acceptable, just, though I steamed a bit with one waitress' novel approach to the old "keep your fork" routine; removing my son's appetizer plate, she tilted the plate to allow his fork to slide back onto the table.
And speaking of tables, Ted's tops theirs with plastic-coated cloths, topped in turn by brown paper. Paper over plastic; that's a first.
Give Ted's Montana Grill points for price-friendliness; just about everything is under $20. The beverage program deserves kudos as well, both for its sensible wine pricing and a soft-drink selection that includes sarsaparilla soda and cherry lemonade in addition to the usual big-name offerings.
Reviews are based on no fewer than two visits. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.
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