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posted: 6/19/2013 6:00 AM

Steak the standout at Stevens' in Gurnee

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  • Beef Wellington, with its traditional puff pastry, earns high marks at Stevens' in Gurnee.

       Beef Wellington, with its traditional puff pastry, earns high marks at Stevens' in Gurnee.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Stevens' Bundt cake topped with Bailey's sauce and ice cream ends dinner on a sweet note.

       Stevens' Bundt cake topped with Bailey's sauce and ice cream ends dinner on a sweet note.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • A barbecue pizza off Stevens' bar menu comes topped with diced chicken, bell peppers and onions.

       A barbecue pizza off Stevens' bar menu comes topped with diced chicken, bell peppers and onions.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Whiskey ribs join steak, chicken and seafood on Stevens' menu.

       Whiskey ribs join steak, chicken and seafood on Stevens' menu.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • The dining room at Stevens' in Gurnee features warm woods and white tablecloths.

       The dining room at Stevens' in Gurnee features warm woods and white tablecloths.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Stevens' in Gurnee boasts a wine list that leans toward California reds.

       Stevens' in Gurnee boasts a wine list that leans toward California reds.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Stevens' specializes in steaks, seafood and pasta.

       Stevens' specializes in steaks, seafood and pasta.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Billock
Daily Herald Correspondent

Light jazz music outside on the patio beckons diners into Stevens', a steakhouse at 401 N. Riverside Drive in Gurnee. Stepping inside betrays the look of the strip-mall location with dark, warm tones and a classy, upscale dining room.

Owner Steve Strezo, who also owns Central Auto Body in Grayslake, opened the restaurant in 2004, bringing in head chef Lupe Gomez from the now-closed Tina and Tony's in Gurnee.

The staff at Stevens' is welcoming with an air of formality that is reflected in the food -- think high-class entrees on a middle-class budget. And the food is good, save for a few missteps.

As is common with other steakhouses, the bar has its own menu that you can't get in the dining room, but you can get dining room food in the bar. The bar menu skews more toward burgers and pizza, and the dining room menu is a steak and seafood dining experience -- with chicken and pasta dishes for those who crave neither surf nor turf. Because my dining partner wanted to give the pizza a try, we opted for the bar, which can get crowded.

Stevens' alcohol selection is geared toward the serious beer aficionado. Most brews are craft-oriented -- the most mainstream you'll see is Blue Moon or Fat Tire. High-quality scotches and an extensive martini list supplement the wine, which mostly hails from California.

We started our meal with the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus appetizer and a Caesar salad. The asparagus is served cold with goat cheese under the prosciutto and a balsamic vinegar reduction drizzled over the top. The richness of the accompaniments played off the refreshing quality of the asparagus, creating a nice, even dish. Although the prosciutto was a little tough, it didn't all come off in one bite as I expected. The Caesar, however, was disappointing. An anchovy-heavy dressing was in short supply and tasted watered down. It seemed like the salad was just a venue for the real star of the plate: the light, buttery and garlicky croutons.

My dining partner ordered the barbecue pizza off the bar menu. Instead of traditional pizza sauce, this had a whiskey barbecue sauce, topped with diced chicken, bell peppers and onions. The pizza was more New York than Chicago with a floppy crust perfect for folding. The chicken was a little overcooked, but the flavors blended well.

My beef Wellington was a breath of fresh air. I ordered my filet mignon medium, and it was cooked perfectly. The juices mingled with a heavenly and earthy mushroom duxelles sauce inside a flaky, smooth puff pastry crust. This was by far the best beef Wellington I've had. As one of the most expensive items on the menu, it was well-worth the price. Clearly Stevens' is the place to be for a good steak.

Dessert was an exceptional Bundt cake with Bailey's sauce and ice cream. It was warm and dense and coated my mouth with a cinnamon-flavored sweetness that I am craving to this day. I couldn't taste much Bailey's in the sauce, if any at all, but the creaminess added a nice touch to the overall flair of the dish.

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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