Retro and Then Some: Delmonico's


Delmonico's Steakhouse is the newest operation of Hospitality Restaurants, a group whose other properties include such popular eateries as the Cabin Club, Salmon Dave's and Blue Point Grille. Open only since October, Delmonico's is already jam-packed most nights with fans of the restaurant's great drinks, Italian-American specialties and excellent steaks and seafood. Be sure to reserve your table.

The restaurant occupies a former Mountain Jack's chain eatery just off Rockside Road near the Rockside/I-77 interchange in Independence. The interior — the work of HR in-house designers aided by independent designer Alan Kennedy — is a knockout (literally, too, since the existing building was gutted and expanded to house Delmonico's).

Reportedly, the aim was to give the place the look of a steakhouse from the 1940s and '50s. But take it from someone who was around then: Back in the day, few spots could boast of such luxury. Don't look for red leatherette booths and knotty pine. Instead, Delmonico's fairly glows with polished marble, exquisite millwork and gleaming brass. The main dining room is a splendid high-ceilinged space, though a tad noisy. The smaller, side dining rooms and the porch, while not as grand, are equally comfortable and quieter.

General manager David Kaminski, a longtime HR employee, says that Delmonico's menu is the result of collaboration between executive chef Andy Dombrowski and HR corporate chef Jim Gillison. It's not a huge list, but, as Kaminski points out, "We offer daily specials, and because every dish is cooked to order we can make alterations in our offerings at the guest's request — making veal Parmesan with chicken, for example. Every guest is sure to find something that pleases him or her."

For starters, you may choose from Italian-style antipasti or more Americanized appetizers. On one visit, we opted for a platter of mixed Italian cured meats (salumi) from the antipasto roster ($14.95). It included slices of pleasantly gamy sopressata salami, silky imported Parma prosciutto and spicy capicola, all top quality and perfectly fresh. The meats are beautifully presented with a selection of imported olives and a ramekin of whole-grain mustard. They're accompanied by a basket of crunchy toasts.

Other antipasti include a selection of imported cheeses with grilled pears ($9.95) or a selection of seafood from the restaurant's raw bar ($29.95). If you're having trouble making up your mind and you're with a group, the antipasto tower includes samplings from all of the above and is ideal for sharing ($49.95).

Truth to tell, most of Delmonico's starters have a decided Italian accent. Deep-fried calamari, for example, are prepared with Sicilian red peppers, pecorino Romano cheese and a basil-scented pesto sauce. It's an inspired combination, each bite offering a different taste or texture: crisp, tender, sweet, spicy and unctuous all at once ($7.95). Sweet banana peppers are stuffed with luscious veal sausage, roasted and served on a puddle of Delmonico's tasty red sauce ($8.95). Jumbo shrimp, firm and sweet, are wrapped in prosciutto, grilled and served on a tart filled with creamy goat cheese ($7.95). Bocce balls are nuggets of Boursin cheese stuffed into Sicilian sweet peppers, breaded and deep fried ($6.95).

Not in the mood for any of these? Delmonico's also offers a delicious crab cake ($11.95), a worthy shrimp cocktail ($9.95) and oysters Newburg in puff pastry ($10.95).

Any steakhouse worthy of the name must offer a wedge salad. Delmonico's consists of a wedge of iceberg lettuce, a sprinkling of red onions and tomatoes, crunchy bits of fried pancetta and a creamy Gorgonzola dressing — a tasty combination for $3.95.

The Caesar salad boasts nicely chopped lettuces garnished with roasted red peppers, white anchovies and crunchy croutons, along with a rather bland Caesar dressing ($4.95). All salads are generous and presented on well-chilled plates.

Pasta selections include the ever-popular spaghetti and meatballs in red sauce ($13.95) and fettuccine Alfredo in a rich white sauce enriched by fontina cheese, sweet peas and crabmeat ($16.95). Pasta lovers might attempt linguine with plenty of clams in a bland white clam sauce ($11.95). The sprinkling of Parmesan cheese — anathema, of course, to Italian food purists — adds some badly needed flavor to the dish.

Beef, naturally, gets top billing among Delmonico's entrees. All of it is either USDA Prime or Choice, and all is wet-aged for at least 21 days. Every steak we sampled was delicious, tender and cooked to perfection. Choose either a 26-ounce ($32.95) or a 14-ounce ($25.95) prime, bone-in Delmonico steak. Smaller appetite? Go for the twin tournedos: eight ounces of succulent beef cooked to a tee ($18.95). If ribeye is your idea of the perfect steak, and if you love the tang of horseradish, choose the 16-ounce Prime ribeye steak served under a savory mousse gently flavored with horseradish and accompanied by garlicky sautéed spinach and housemade potato chips ($27.95). Many of the steaks are served with the surprising side of a roasted cubanelle (sweet green) pepper — unexpected, but very tasty.

Seafood selections are uniformly excellent, as might be expected from the folks who brought you Blue Point. One night, we were lucky to be offered as a special of the day a generous hunk of perfectly grilled grouper on a crisp and tender potato cake, swimming in a pool of puréed roasted red peppers and tomatoes: a real treat ($24.95). Daily seafood offerings include salmon brushed with a honey-balsamic glaze ($16.95) and herb-grilled swordfish with spinach/fontina risotto ($23.95).

Other non-beef entrees include braciole — rolled veal steak stuffed with the outstanding housemade veal sausage and artichokes, and topped with Delmonico's red sauce ($17.95). Chicken Parmesan with ricotta gnocchi and red sauce is offered at $14.95.

Sides range well beyond the creamed spinach and home fries typical of so many steakhouses. Jumbo asparagus spears are hand peeled and sautéed until succulent and tender in plenty of butter ($5.95). A king-sized baked Idaho potato is loaded with cheese sauce, chives and crisp pancetta ($2.95).

Desserts are a decided weak spot at Delmonico's. Most are priced at about $6 and they include a selection of ice creams, a rather ordinary chocolate cake, a so-so lemon custard and a trio of variously flavored crème brûlée concoctions, none of which stand out.

Service can best be described as spotty, though this should improve with time. Everyone is friendly and enthusiastic, but on a busy night requests for refills of your water glasses or bread basket may be either ignored or forgotten.

The restaurant boasts a well-designed wine list, and a certified sommelier is usually on premises to help with your selection. Mixed drinks are generous and expertly made.

Delmonico's Steakhouse, 6001 Quarry Lane, Independence, (216) 573-1991. Hours: lunch: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; dinner: Mon-Thu 4-10:30 p.m., Fri and Sat 4-11:30 p.m.; Sun 4 - 9 p.m. Access is fairly easy with both dining room and restrooms on the ground floor. All major credit cards are accepted.

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