This has been by far the longest day of my life and now we are heading in the opposite direction from where we want to go all so we can go to “the Chop.” http://www.chicagochophouse.com/ Even though it was because the other employees wanted to let me experience my first meal from the Number One Steakhouse in America—at least according to the Delta’s in flight magazine—I wasn’t too upset about it, trying to roll with the punches. It was light when we left South Bend so I got to get a good look around—the thing I remember the very most are the black squirrels I saw running around everywhere. And these weren’t just any black squirrels… they were HUGE!
I believe we drove past Notre Dame—which is one of my favorite places because of one of my favorite movies (Rudy), go fighting Irish! Alright, so I don’t really follow them, but I really do love the movie Rudy and for that Notre Dame will always have a special place in my heart. The drive to Chicago felt long but it was all so new and exciting that I just took it all in.
We did drive through South Chicago on our way into the City. For somebody who had never really been to a good sized city (at least without others from my family) it was a HUGE change for me. I had heard about all the “scary” things that happen in South Chicago and even though we only drove through on the freeway I felt a foreboding sense of doom—thinking maybe I was driving into my demise. This little kid from a small suburb outside of Salt Lake City was headed into the Concrete Jungle… and I was excited!
We had to drive right to the Chop because our reservation was close and we didn’t want to lose our place. We found the exit right off the freeway, which was actually the block over from Ontario Street (Ohio Street). After driving a few blocks we saw the general area where the chop should be—there was a big Rain Forest Café we turned left at and then parked in an empty lot about ½ block away from the Chop (which is now a very tall building).
I remember being slightly nervous and afraid as we walked the short distance to the hotel, but again was very excited. When we entered the restaurant I felt like I had taken a step back through a time warp to another time. For any of you out there that have been to the chop you’ll know what I mean. The best I can describe it is as though you were walking into an old Mafia Movie and were waiting for all the big crime bosses to come in and mow the place down at any minute.
As we walked up to the Greeter table the gentleman there looked at me and said: “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow guests in without wearing a collared shirt.” I made the quick look around and noticed that there was at least one other gentleman in the bar area that didn’t have a collared shirt on—he did however look very successful and was with what looked like a very powerful group of friends. And here I was looking all of 18 years old (I was 24 at the time) and probably was just a punk. We were about ready to leave when another gentleman came by and said: “don’t worry sir we have a shirt you can borrow for tonight.
I accepted and we were led to the 3rd floor to our table. The whole place had the feel of a mafia hangout—not in a bad way but in a very HOLY CRAP what am I getting myself into kind of way. We were seated and I went to grab the menu—seeing what I was reaching for Dustin quickly grabbed the menu and said: “oh no, no, no… you won’t be needing a menu tonight.” Not 2 more minutes had passed when the waiter came and asked for our drink but Dustin said: “Oh… we’re ready to order.” “OK” the waiter said incredulously, what would you like.
Without looking at the menu Dustin quickly said “we’ll have 2 of your Charred 24 ounce bone in rib-eye steak cooked medium rare.” Dustin did let me choose my side and I quickly jumped on French Fries—an inkling into why I’m where I am today, FULL OF CANDIDA! We ordered soda (which I’m sure the waiter as surprised at—hoping we would order some wine or beer) and then we anxiously awaited our order. Dustin could not stop talking up the experience (he being here just one other time before now and so a bit of a newbie like me).
I don’t think he worried at all about talking it up and he really did not do it justice. This was my first taste at what would soon make me a bit of a steak-house snob. As a little side note to this experience it wasn’t too much later that I was on a flight to Tucson Arizona from SLC and was seated next to a gentleman who also said he loved a good steakhouse. I was excited to learn about anything Tucson had to offer.
He was all sorts of excited to give me the name of a great place in Tucson, and I was very excited to have a place to eat while in Tucson, because—as far as steakhouses go—there was really nothing there that I was aware of. I was just thinking of pulling a pen out of my bag when he said: “Now it’s no Sizzler… but it’s good!” I have been a huge Sizzler fan and still enjoyed sizzler, but as far as I was concerned it was no steak house! I was now use to places like the chop, Ruths’ Chris, Bob’s steak and chop in Dallas Texas and Bone’s in Atlanta Georgia. This is why I was now a steakhouse snob—but not at this point on my first trip to the chop!
Our salads came along with our bread and drinks and we snacked while we waited for the real deal, the main course, the reason we were there. As soon as one dish was taken our waiter would take out a little knife and clean off the table cloth with it (making sure to keep all the crumbs off the table). This was the first time I had experienced something like this at a restaurant and I enjoyed every minute of it! The waiter came and cleared our salad plates and then did the quick swish swish swish with the knife (man he was fast!) just before the server brought our main dish!
Dustin DID NOT disappoint and neither did the Chop (to this day I have never had a bad meal at the chop and I have been there—in all—about 5 or 6 times over the years, although it has been about 6-7 years since I have been there. I enjoyed every bit of that tender rib-eye steak and ate it clear to the bone! Even the fries were tastier here than I remember at any other restaurant I had ever been to. I felt stuffed but honestly felt like I could down a whole other steak without batting an eye.
As our server brought over the dessert tray (I hadn’t ever really been to many places with a true dessert tray either) I eyed the 6 layer German chocolate cake and just could not resist! I ordered that bad boy and downed every bit, darn near wanting to lick my plate clean, like I was in a Chuck-O-Rama restaurant or something, but thought better when I noticed all the people (employees) staring in my direction.
Even the bathrooms in this place were unlike anything I had ever seen—the toilet had a little mechanism on it that would pull a new plastic cover over the seat before you sat down to do your business—everything about this new world was something I liked and I knew I was never going to feel the same! As we were leaving the chop they wanted to sell me the shirt but when I asked how much it was they said--$25.00… to which I responded: “but it’s used?!” I don’ t think they liked my answer much—I should have just gone for it because when I came back the next time their prices had gone up and I didn’t end up getting it anyway.
I left that restaurant feeling like I had arrived. A bill came that was more than I had ever seen a meal for 2 people cost and I didn’t have to pay a dime of it—even later I would pay and get reimbursed for my expenses. I survived my experience at the chop and could not be happier—I was well on my way to becoming a weekly (even bi-weekly) steak connoisseur!
Dustin decided to take me by the sears tower (can’t remember what it’s called now) but you know the building… the one they show in Ferris Bueller’s Day off that they all go to the top of and stare down at the city. Nothing was open at this point, it was pretty dark but there was still something special about this place—it was quickly becoming my favorite place! We drove on the Lake Shore Drive, which followed Lake Michigan and saw the pier, which is a huge tourist destination.
Dustin must have been feeling adventurous because he decided he wanted to try to find an entrance to the freeway by heading south on Lake Shore—it didn’t take long before we were well out of the city and we were still not on the freeway—we were really now in South Chicago. I was trying to act as the navigator—had the dome light on and the map out (days before GPS was standard issue in rentals). Dustin finally looked at me and said: “Put that map away and turn off the light!” I guess he didn’t want to look like we didn’t know where we were going as we were driving through what was obviously not a very nice neighborhood.