Monday, March 15, 2010

Tell Them Charlie Sent You

And then thank Charlie for the restaurant recommendation.

One evening, our Aunt Evelyn Morton treated a group of us to dinner at Don & Charlie’s, a restaurant that is part classic Chicago steakhouse and part sports (with an emphasis on baseball) memorabilia museum. Virtually every surface (even sections of the ceiling) is covered with framed photographs of sports greats (above), autographed jerseys, posters, and an enormous collection of autographed baseballs, including one case devoted to Baseball Hall of Fame designees. (Some of the baseballs shown here bear the names Musial, Mantle, Banks, Feller, Mays, Gibson, and Ruth). It is thought to be the largest collection of sports memorabilia west of the Mississippi. Now I am no big fan of baseball (more on this in a later blog), but even I was impressed with the collection.

Don Carson was raised in Rogers Park, which is located on the North Side of Chicago and grew up, as did his partner, in a restaurant family. He grew up eating, tasting and trying new food items and learned to appreciate food that was prepared from scratch. He also grew up with a great love of sports - the Cubs, White Sox, Bears and (Chicago) Cardinals were always hot topics of conversation. He and his friends played "pinners" (a Chicago neighborhood game played on the front-stoop or walls with angled bricks/stones which can be used to pop the ball up in the air), fast pitch, line ball and 16-inch softball. In 1959, his family moved to Arizona. Don discovered Spring Training and was in baseball heaven watching Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and the rest of the players get ready for opening day.

Since the restaurant was opened in 1981, Don & Charlie's has been consistently named among the top twenty in the annual Zagat Survey of Southwestern Restaurants and has been called the “Best Restaurant for Male Bonding.”

Along with the atmosphere being classic steakhouse, so, too, is the menu. For starters you can choose from jumbo prawn shrimp cocktail, baked spinach and artichoke dip, coconut fried shrimp, French onion soup, Caesar salad, an iceberg wedge (with red onion, bacon, tomato, and blue cheese crumbles), or Cobb salad.

Seafood lovers have their choice of: Coconut Fried Shrimp served with marmalade dipping sauce; Shrimp de Jonghe sautéed in wine and topped with garlic bread crumbs; the Salmon Filet with lemon butter sauce or a Mustard Crusted Salmon; Frog’s Legs with garlic butter; or Macadamia Nut Crusted Chilean Sea bass served with a lemon butter sauce. (Hungry yet?)

Prime rib comes in ten, twelve, and sixteen ounce portions. And then there are the steaks (all of which are Midwest corn fed beef) - skirt, rib eye, chopped, fillet, and New York strip. And pork chops. And lamb chops. And barbeque – chicken, ribs (baby back or beef), and barbeque combos.

All of us went in slightly different directions. For me, since I have not satisfied my fish and seafood craving, it was the appetizer order of fried calamari with a twice baked potato. Beverly Jahn and her friend Jeanie (photo #3 above) shared the baby back platter and an order of the French fried onion strings. Evelyn and her daughter Raina (photo #4 above) shared the ribs and coconut fried shrimp combo. Evie started with a cup of French onion soup and Raina with the lettuce wedge salad. Raina’s friend Jesse (right) ordered the ribs and chicken schnitzel (pounded chicken breast dipped lightly in egg and flour and served with a lemon and garlic sauce). And Chuck chose the ten ounce prime rib (medium rare) with a baked potato.

Those ordering dinners had their choice of soup or cole slaw – creamy or deli style. After tasting both, the finely chopped creamy won out over the shredded deli, since the latter’s dressing had a vinegar base.

Good manners (this is a first) kept me from tasting everyone’s plate. I did sample Raina’s salad and this was the ultimate steakhouse lettuce wedge – cold and crisp with smoky bacon pieces and bleu cheese (one of my favorite cheeses). Chuck’s steak was perfect. It was absolutely tender with a warm red center and was sitting in a pool of intensely beefy a jus. I know that grass feeding beef is considered more ecologically friendly, but you just can’t match the flavor of corn fed beef.

My calamari was an enormous serving of small rings and small whole squid (hooray) in a light coating. They were crisp and tender and came with a horseradish laced cocktail sauce. The twice baked potato was enormous and was rich with cheese, sour cream, and bacon. This was so large that two-thirds returned home with me and made a side dish for both of us the following evening.

This was a wonderful evening with family and friends and is one of the reasons that I love returning to Phoenix. In all respects, this was a 5.0 Addie night.

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