Our waitress, looking up to make sure she didn't light any holiday decorations on fire, set our saganaki ablaze with a smile and friendly chatter. It felt like we'd known each other for years as she extinguished the flames and served our appetizer.
Cheerful service like this appears to be the norm at Johnny's Chophouse on Main Street in downtown Antioch. From the moment we walked into the warm and wooden dining room, I noticed all the staff chatting up customers and making them feel at home.
Johnny's Chophouse1500 Main St., Antioch, (847) 838-2015, johnnyschophouse.com
Cuisine: Traditional steakhouse
Setting: Intimate, warm
Entrees: $12 to $35
Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Johnny's is the Katris family's only restaurant, and co-owners George and Dino (and their father Johnny, who has owned several area eateries over the years) add a personal touch with a slight Greek flair to the menu. Saganaki and Grecian lamb chops accent a wine list that offers mostly Greek bottles. The Mediterranean influence ends shortly after that, however, and traditional American steakhouse flavors take over. Steak, seafood, chicken and pasta entrees with subdued spice will satisfy everyone in your party and work for any occasion.
Our meal started on a high note with a standard basket of warm bread. What looked like a thick roasted red pepper flatbread turned out to be a cheesy, garlicky, almost pizza-esque indulgence. Eat that first while you let the butter reach room temperature. The other rolls may be warm, but the chilled spread will still take an effort.
We followed the bread with saganaki, french onion soup and salad. I'll try saganaki anywhere, and I'm glad to know better-than-average versions exist in Lake County. Johnny's may need a bit more lemon and a little less salt, but the display alone gets me every time. The french onion soup was sweeter than normal (I suspect the chef used Vidalia onions) with the perfect balance of broth and onions to cheese and bread. Whatever magic they cast in the kitchen worked and not only did the bread not fall apart or turn into mush, but the cheese kept its stretch and didn't congeal into a lump on the bottom of the bowl. Obviously fresh ingredients enhanced our simple salads of romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers and croutons -- a good, light introduction to the main course.
Just the description of our entrees was enough to make my mouth water, but the dish presentation of both fueled my craving even more. I had the tenderloin tips, chunks of filet cooked to a perfect medium sautéed with parsley and garlic, served over fettuccini with a cabernet sauvignon demi-glace. A handful of shredded parmesan cheese in the middle played off the sultry hue of the sauce in a stark white dish. My husband's tortellini Bordelaise (tortellini stuffed with nutmeg-infused cheese with roasted red pepper and a red wine reduction demi-glace), identically plated, carried the same beauty. Although both dishes were cooked to perfection, we did find the sauce to be just a bit bland. The quality of the food overall made up for the small lack of spice, though, so we were still impressed.
For dessert, we had their most popular dish -- the Xango. Cinnamon ice cream flanked by fried dough stuffed with banana cheesecake filling is the best way to end any meal at Johnny's. Don't be skeptical about the cinnamon ice cream. You'll find it carries just the right amount of mild flavor so it doesn't burn your mouth with spice. And even if it does, you can always calm your taste buds with silky smooth cheesecake.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.