River North offers beef lovers big, brash options

December 3, 2010 (CHICAGO)

In a city with Gene and Georgetti, Gibson's and Primehouse, do we really need three more steakhouses? Apparently, yes. Especially if you have an expense account. As a general rule, size seems to be more important than skill, but if you're the kind of person who doesn't flinch at spending $50 for a piece of meat, then here are three more options for you, all of them in River North.

They're big, they're brash, and they're all pushing USDA-graded prime beef to a seemingly insatiable clientele. Take the latest entry: Mastro's, which hails from the West Coast, and is hoping to revitalize the old Spago and Blue Water Grill space in River North. The most expensive of the new crop, they hand-trim wet-aged beef, sear it in 1400-degree Montague broilers, then serve them on 400-degree plates and shower them with clarified butter. Sides are gargantuan by any standard, and would make Fred Flintstone blush. A signature mashed potato contains butter, sour cream, bacon, cheese and chives. A rich butter cake puts a final, decadent exclamation point on the experience.

A few blocks away, Benny's Chop House has been operating in the old Jazz Record Mart for several months offering a few more beef options.

"We have a choice of wet age, dry age, and we're doing all-natural beef also. So we're just kind of giving everyone an option of a little bit of everything," said Benny's Chef Jonathan Lane.

Sides are a bit more appropriate - sauteed mushrooms, creamed spinach and hashed browns are perfect for a small table - and starch is a star here.

"We also do the hand cut fries, which we make in house. We like to utilize the baked potato also as a double-baked potato. We put bacon, chives, sour cream, scallions into it," Lane said.

On the lip of the Chicago River at LaSalle, Chicago Cut is run by some former Rosebud Steakhouse vets. The menu is more ambitious, and the owners don't seem to mind the fierce competition.

"I think it's been a realization that steakhouses - the concept - fits best in Chicago. And I think it's now a proven track record going back to Gene and Georgetti, which is 60 years old, to all the latest," said David Flom, Co-owner of Chicago Cut.

The biggest difference here is the dry-aged beef, butchered on-site.

"Hand-cutting the steaks to order here, so we get you the best possible steak we can," Flom said.

Portions are, not surprisingly, huge - whether it's shrimp cocktail or a burrata salad. Hashed browns are plentiful too. Flom's other achievement: a 750-bottle wine list made digital - presented on an iPad.

"It's a really interactive feature where you'll start with a globe with all the wine-bearing countries, touch the country that you'd like to come from, go to a sub-region, and then have a smaller selection of wines to choose from," said Flom.

The most surprising thing of all.. The prices. Don't be afraid to split a steak, since cuts can range from eight to 48 ounces at most of these places. Also, be sure to ask questions about the size of the side dishes, as some places will happily pile them onto your bill, without regard for how much will be eaten.

Benny's Chop House
444 N. Wabash Ave.

Chicago Cut Steakhouse
300 N. LaSalle St.

520 N. Dearborn St.

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