It took 47 years and one visit to the Gale Street Inn to understand why sailing vessels are ascribed the feminine gender. According to a placard on a wall at the Gale Street Inn, a nautical themed restaurant in the Northwest Chicago suburb of Mundelein, a ship is called a she because “there’s always a great deal of bustle around her…because there’s usually a gang of men around…because she has waist and stays…because she takes a lot of paint to keep her looking good…because it’s not the initial expense that breaks you, it’s the upkeep…because she is all decked out…because it take a good man to handle her right…because she shows her topside, hides her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys.”
While that theory may have the same veracity as a used car salesman telling you the lemon you’re about to buy was owned by a little old lady who used it solely to go to church on Sundays, its presence on the wall may infer something about the Gale Street Inn. To the women in our dining party, the inference was that the restaurant reeks of masculinity–a contention further borne out by the massive stone fireplace that divides the wood rich dining rooms on whose walls are hung paintings of sea-faring vessels and Bosn’s head busts of mariners. The bar’s television tuned to ESPN lent further credence to their argument.
For me, the Gale Street Inn is quintessentially Chicago, a city in which masculinity is historically defined by political power, competitive sports teams, broad-shouldered skyscrapers…and restaurants with rich wood appointments serving huge slabs of beef; hearty, rich soups; steaming bread rolls with thick pads of butter; bounteous salad bars with powerful salad dressings; and often, seafood with a surprisingly fresh, just caught taste.
The Diamond Lake restaurant shares a name, menu, reputation and a loose affiliation with a Chicago restaurant once situated on Gale Street, but it has something its big city brethren doesn’t have–unobstructed views of Diamond Lake whose shimmering waters glint like a diamond in either the moonlight or the day’s sun. It’s one of the crown jewels of Lake county.
Dinner at the Gale Street Inn includes a complementary salad bar with traditional iceberg lettuce and decidedly un-masculine spinach as well as several conventional salad bar accoutrements. What really sets Chicago area salad bars apart from everywhere else are the intensely flavored salad dressings. A Chicago style blue cheese dressing is thick and creamy, replete with deeply pungent, sharp blue cheese. Even more intensely flavored is Chicago style Garlic Ranch dressing so heady it will wreck your breath and may reek off your pores the following day. The Gale Street Inn’s version of these dressings is among the best you’ll find anywhere. The salad bar also includes a delicious chicken pate redolent with garlic and bacon bits.
The pate is so good we would have begged, pleaded, cajoled…maybe even bribed the chef for the recipe. Fortunately we didn’t have to. After explaining how far we drove to the restaurant and being sworn to secrecy, the chef gave us the recipe and we’ve managed to duplicate all but the experience. Warm bread rolls with sweet butter are replenished faithfully throughout your meal. A pate sandwich is even better.
In a city known for barbecue baby back ribs, the Gale Street Inn’s might be the very best we’ve had. If not the best, these ribs are certainly the most tender–as in slide-off-the-bone and melt-in-your-mouth tender. These are ribs you eat can eat with a knife and fork or with your hands. A caramelized crust and a mild, smoky flavor complement the slightly tangy sauce. A side of sauce, served warm, is also provided, but isn’t needed. During our October, 2010 visit, the Gale Street Inn’s monthly special was a unique version of surf and turf–a half-rack of babybacks and three crab-stuffed shrimp. Shrimp is a misnomer for these delicious decapods which are engorged to bursting point.
Carnivores will also enjoy the slowly roasted prime rib of beef, a perfectly marbled 20-ounce slab of perfectly prepared beef served with au jus. Ask for the end piece if you want a slightly less rare cut defined by its tenderness and flavor intensity. The prime rib isn’t nearly as fatty or rare as served at some restaurants, but lacks none of the flavors that make this cut of beef so popular.
The Gale Street Inn’s symbol is an anchor with each of its four points corresponding to one of its staples. The ring or top part of the anchor represents ribs, perhaps the restaurant’s most popular entree. The left bill (the point) represents steak while the right bill represents chops and the crown (or bottom point) represents seafood. The menu prepares this quadrumvirate in various ways, ostensibly all delicious and hearty.
An eight-ounce grilled butt steak prepared at medium and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic on both sides is an excellent option. Because of its name and its alternate name, rump steak, butt steak is (pun intended) the butt of many a joke. Essentially, a butt steak is a boneless sirloin steak. For optimum flavor, butt steaks are usually grilled or broiled. Overcook them and they’ll lose much of their flavor. Experience in preparing this cut of steak shows at the Gale Street Inn because the pulchritudinous beef on your plate will be juicy and almost fork tender.
The Gale Street Inn is surprisingly value-priced and even features several stimulus specials that will fill you up for a paltry sum. It’s a masculine restaurant with something for everyone, the only requirement being that you come here hungry.
Gale Street Inn
935 Diamond Lake Road
LATEST VISIT: 14 October 2010
1st VISIT: 20 November 2005
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Baby Back Ribs, Salad Bar, Garlic Ranch Dressing, Potatoes Au Gratin