Monday, May 30, 2011

One of a Dying Breed

The Midwest used to be full of restaurants like this. Located in a residential neighborhood, they served as a local taproom and as a destination dining venue. You could be assured of a cold beer, a welcoming smile, and a wonderful meal that didn’t clean out your wallet.

But one still stands—the Old Luxemburg Inn in Springfield, IL, known affectionately by the locals as “the Old Lux.” Kerstin B on describes the Old Lux perfectly: “It's the Old Lux, one of the last good ole-fashioned steakhouses standing. In a sea of fast food and Steak house chains this is a diamond in a platinum setting! ...You can't go wrong, from the dark wood and leather to the antique bar fully stocked…. The ambiance is so ‘there’! You feel like Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra is about to walk in. It hasn't changed since it opened, and why should it?”

The Old Lux was founded in 1941. The surrounding neighborhood has undergone change and one of the slots in the parking lot is marked “Security.” But patrons have remained loyal. Matteo h on writes: “Yeah, boy! What can I say? This place has been around forever, and so have some of the customers. There's a serious blue hair crowd here. And you know what that tells me? The food must be good or else they would be at MCL (?). Guess what? The food is really good.”

Just inside the front doors lies the dark bar area. That night, everyone was clustered around the TV at the back of the bar following the severe weather alert notice. Yes, this is spring in the Midwest and that means nasty storms and tornados.

But that wasn’t going to keep the birthday party

and a special group for which the private dining rooms had been set from enjoying dinner.

The main dining room is dark. Dark paneling. Dim lighting. Which made it hard to read the menu. I am sure that I saw some chicken entrees, pork chops, and fried shrimp. And it wouldn’t have surprised me to see rumaki* listed as an appetizer along with a shrimp cocktail.

But the menu wasn’t needed. We came with a plan. This was the night for the ten-ounce filet mignon with salad and baked potato for $11.95. Both Dora and Chuck ordered the special. I ordered something else that will be described later.

The salads (Sorry, no photo) were the archetypal Midwest steakhouse salads. Composed primarily of iceberg lettuce with grated carrots, red cabbage, tomatoes, and cucumber slices, it was icy cold and super crisp. The house dressing, a peppercorn garlic, had a mild garlic flavor and came served on the side.

Each of our orders came with a baked potato. I know that foodies claim that a baked potato should never be baked in foil because the potato steams rather than bakes. I don’t care. These were excellent potatoes and were fluffy and steaming hot. Dora ordered the Old Lux’s chive and cream sauce for hers, and it was outrageously delicious. Chuck and I went the more pedestrian route with butter for him and sour cream for me.

How good can an $11.95 filet be? Really good is the answer. In true steakhouse fashion, it came wrapped with a single slice of bacon. And the meat, which both ordered medium, was a testament to Midwest beef. Nary a speck of fat or gristle. Tender and juicy meat. Great beef flavor. This steak rivals the prime rib Chuck had many months ago at the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, MT.

I went in another direction. Before visiting the Old Lux, I had read a number of on-line diner reviews, and just as writers raved about the steaks, writers raved about the french fried lobster. Yes. You read that right. French fried lobster. Tropican49 on is just one example: “The filet was tender, tasty, large, and not too expensive. They also have french-fried lobster, which was surprisingly good—in fact, it was wonderful.”

And it was. The meat of a good-sized lobster had been dipped in a light batter, and the tail fried until the lobster meat was just cooked. While I suspect that this started with frozen seafood, the meat still had great flavor and was flakey and tender. I really enjoyed the contrast between the crisp coating and softer lobster meat. This is a dish that shouldn’t work. But it did.

This was a delightful 5.0 Addie return to the past, and all three of us were glad that we ignored the threatening weather.
*Do you remember rumaki? This was the rage back in the 1960’s and “is an hors d'oeuvre of mock-Polynesian origin…probably invented by Victor Bergeron, known as Trader Vic.... (U)sually it consists of water chestnuts and pieces of duck or chicken liver wrapped in bacon and marinated in soy sauce and either ginger or brown sugar” ( Proving again that everything tastes better with bacon.

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