NORTHBROOK — Walk into Morton’s The Steakhouse in Northbrook on a weekday evening and there is more going on than a celebration of prime beef steak.
While the dining room is getting close to full on a Thursday evening, the bar is overflowing as people visit with each other while watching different sports events on the three television screens.
“People from the area consider this a place to be seen,” said Tom Lange, the general manager of the Northbrook location, one of six in the Chicago area and one of more than 70 worldwide. “It’s like a country club that’s not a country club.”
Beside the comradery, Lange said the bar menu offers selected drinks and “bar bites” including fries, mini crab cakes, tuna tacos, cheeseburgers ground from prime beef, filet mignon sandwiches and more for half price between 5 and 7 p.m. during the week.
Once in the dining room the restaurant is primarily about steak, according to Lange. The menu includes 11 choices ranging from a 6 oz. filet to a double porterhouse for two and strips, rib-eye steaks and more in between.
Lange estimates between 65 percent and 70 percent of the diners order steak. He said it has been a tradition since the chain opened its first restaurant under the ownership of Arnie Morton on Chicago’s Near North side in 1978. Allen Brothers, a Chicago-based meat cutter, has been providing the prime beef ever since.
“They’ve been with us since the beginning,” said Lange, a 24-year veteran of the company. “They give us the top two percent of their meat. It’s all center cut. We get the best of the best.”
The wait staff also takes its time with customers explaining exactly what each temperature of meat preparation means and suggesting ideas like medium rare plus after a customer explains how they like a steak. They suggest erring on the rarer side because the meat can be cooked a little longer if necessary.
Over the last few years, Lange said he has seen people’s eating habits change but not their return trips to Morton’s or a desire for quality. Menu items—both beef and other things like seafood, fowl and pasta—have been adjusted and some new ones put on.
“We’ve added a 6 oz. filet,” said Lange. “People want smaller portions. They have less side dishes and dessert. We also offer a gluten free menu.”
Lange, like all other Morton’s general managers, said he is a sommelier. That is helpful when there are 19 reds by the glass, a dozen whites and quartet of sparkling wines as well as scores of bottles. Though the selection is vast, Lange said sales are less plentiful.
“We’re not selling as much wine or drinks as we did three or four years ago,” said Lange. “It’s good for us. We don’t have to worry if they’ve had too much,” he added saying people are learning to police themselves.
Diners may order dessert less often too, but some special meal enders like soufflé must be requested when the main course is selected. Lange said there have been adjustments there too.
“We offer two sizes,” said Lange of the soufflés. “We have an individual size as well as the (traditional) one for two.”
Morton’s has also found ways to cater to families with younger children. Lange said parents can order burgers and other things off the bar menu for their youngsters. Some of the time the kids share, sometimes not.
“We have kids in here who are pretty seasoned diners at 8, 9 and 10,” said Lange.