Big prime rib and a long good-bye at Don Roth's
The big DRB Cut at Don Roth's Blackhawk is branded to set it apart from mortally sized offerings. Most Blackhawk diners opt for the "Small" Cut, a 10-ounce version that's on sale for $19.69 to mark the restaurant's Wheeling opening four decades ago.
Was it something I said?
A few days after we visited Don Roth's Blackhawk to document an oversize prime rib for our big-food series, the restaurant announced it's going out of business.
The decision to end 40 years in Wheeling Dec. 31 was made shortly before we came, but general manager Bob Vorachek thought it better to tell his employees before he told us.
In a nutshell: Don Roth's widow Ann, almost 90, didn't feel up to pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into renovations of the 150-year-old converted farmhouse at 61 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Not when 432,000 of this area's prospective diners are reading help wanted ads instead of menus.
The Blackhawk, founded 90 years ago in the Loop, is an old-fashioned place, and it's going out in an old-fashioned way.
"Most restaurants usually close for economic reasons, and they post a number on the door," Vorachek said. "'We've closed: call 1-800-FAT-CHANCE for your paycheck.'"
But Roth and Vorachek insisted the 36 Blackhawk employees and their customers know in advance. Vorachek said the employees who stick it out through December will get severance benefits including "a generous bonus" and a couple of months of extra health coverage.
Looking back, my mission to describe and consume the Blackhawk's 36-ounce "DRB Cut" prime rib seems especially incongruous.
When 10 in 100 Americans have lost their jobs, and Lehman Brothers, Circuit City and Pontiac are out of business and the bottoms of jars are shaped like cones to cheat you out of a spoonful of peanut butter, it's hard to conscience buying a $42.95 chunk of dead animal flesh.
So it's lucky I have an expense account.
There's a certain Christmas-morning feeling to seeing a smiling waiter deposit a 1.5-inch-thick, free prime rib in front of you, knowing that people will actually encourage you to knock it off.
Nothing to it.
With the first bite, my eyes involuntarily shut, leaving me and the meat in our own private little world. I groaned a little.
I worked my way through the merely tasty central "eye section" and then speared the moist little oyster of meat near the tail.
This left only the bone, and nobody around except a vegetarian photographer to fight me for it.
She took a good picture, especially for someone with her eyes closed.
Prime rib is typically slow-roasted at low temperature, resulting in a perfectly cooked medium-rare piece of meat.
Nevertheless, some customers are freaked out by its bloody appearance, and want it seared, a nasty fix for something that isn't broken.
"After four and a half hours (of cooking), anything we do to it is not going to improve it," sighs Vorachek.
So chefs are instructed that instead of toughening up the meat by tossing it on the grill, they dunk it in the au jus, then send it right back out. That takes most of the bloody color out of it, but preserves the taste.
Most Blackhawk prime rib diners ignore the DRB Cut and opt for the $24.95 "Small" Cut, a 10-ounce version that's on sale for $19.69 to mark the restaurant's Wheeling opening four decades ago.
When we went to the Blackhawk, the "DRB Cut" wasn't even on the menu. Vorachek said he pulled it a few months back: Some people see it on top of the list of variously-sized prime ribs and come down with a case of menu blindness, assuming that it's either the giant $43 beast, or nothing.
But it's still yours for the asking.
But if you want this big piece o' meat, or something more sensible, the Blackhawk's the place to be through the end of the year. Don't expect cute little piles of food, molecular cooking, foams or stuff frozen by liquid nitrogen, however.
What you get is real food, heavy on the protein, the Spinning Salad Bowl, and standards playing on the speakers quietly enough to hear yourself think.
"We've stuck to a theme of gracious dining -- conversationally friendly, with tables that aren't stuck next to each other," Vorachek said.
"You won't eat at a wood-topped table, and you won't get your silverware rolled up in a napkin."
And if you don't know what standards are, the Blackhawk might not be the place you're looking for.