For my money, the Northbrook outpost of Morton’s The Steakhouse remains one of the last unabashedly “non-ironic” steakhouses in these parts. At a time when so many “modern” steakhouses are trying to source the most exotic cuts of foreign beef, glamor up the glitziest dining room, and deliver cocktails so fluorescent they should have their own Crayola marker color, here sits Morton’s—classic, classy, and confident.
When it comes to steakhouses, intangibles matter. The color scheme here is elegantly monochromatic: classic tuxedo colors—midnight black meets evening-gown white—frosted with enough glass and silver accouterments to make the whole room sparkle.
No one has overthought the seating either. Morton’s chairs prioritize comfort in ways that the new wave of modish contraptions—which seek style points over simple functionality—simply don’t.
And then there’s the elegant soundtrack. No blaring pop hits overhead nor any “chic” playlists uploaded from some quirky server’s iPhone. Instead expect a gentler score. Piano ditties. Instrumentals. Classic tunes. All mellow enough that you can actually enjoy a conversation without screaming across the table.
The menu is also refreshingly direct. No overwrought descriptors. Just basic titles. Jumbo shrimp cocktail. A half dozen oysters on the half shell. Lobster bisque. Chopped salad. Center-cut filets. Double-cut prime pork chop, etc. Honey-Balsamic salmon. And plenty of sides, from sour cream mashed potatoes to creamed spinach.
After years of experience, I’ve found that beginning with seafood starting and closing with different cuts of beef is the way to go, as Morton’s seafood appetizers are often miniaturized versions of its entrees.
When your server points to the crab cakes on your menu and tells you, “We do it right. Lots of crab, very little filling,” she actually means. Expect very little breading and big tufts of crab meat, which delivers a full-flavored taste of the ocean that tough to come by this side of the Chesapeake.
There’s a surprising finesse to all the sauces that accompany the seafood offerings. The house’s apricot chutney is spiked with both horseradish and black pepper, which proves to be a spicy-sweet foil to the Morton’s bacon-wrapped scallops. And the white wine sauce that accompanies giant curls of garlicky Shrimp Alexander delivers just the right amount of creamy ballast.
The salads are, without a doubt, Chicago-sized portions that can feed a duo, if not a table. The most nuanced and richest of the bunch is the spinach chopped salad, which gets tossed in a smoky-sweet bacon vinaigrette, topped with shredded egg, sweet slivers of onions, and more bacon than you’ll find in grandma’s BLT.
Chef Miguel Sandoval says the key to Morton’s success is its years of experience working with high-end broilers, which not only reach 1,200 degrees but cooks his Allen Brothers steaks from the top down. The resulting crispy outer layer of char seals in the juices within the interior of the steak.
Our pick? The well-marbled bone-in porterhouse, which is accompanied by a concentrated au jus—we’re talking prime rib worthy here—which amplifies without overwhelming the steak’s corn-fed flavors.
But the surprise of the evening may be an often-overlooked gem: Morton’s bone-in veal chop, a mellowed and nuanced ultra-tender cut that’s topped with a bone-marrow butter so nutty and umami rich it would makes a well-aged parmesan taste limp in comparison.
Sides abound, but ordering a secret off-the-menu classic mac and cheese may be your best bet, especially if you’re partial to an incredibly powerful blend of Gruyere, cheddar, Swiss and cream cheese, complete with a crispy roof of crisped breadcrumbs.
For dessert, you should swing the other way: go soft. Roughly 30 minutes before you want your sweets, order a single serving of the house’s soufflé. The lemon soufflé—a brown muffin-top that recedes into a loamy base—is the best of the bunch. But a slice of the house key lime pie, which toes the line between sweetness and citrus, with unusual deft, is a close second.
By the close of all this old-school luxuriousness you’ll probably want a moment to yourself. And spend some time doing what all good steakhouses should compel you to do: Talk about memories of days gone by and visions of future without a trace of irony in sight.
Morton’s bar knows its staples—good martinis and Manhattans—and offers smart whiskey choices to boot. But occasionally, you may want some novelty.
Here are two tipples worth a sip.
A blend of Tanqueray Gin, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur and Lemon Juice, garnished with an Italian Luxardo Cherry
Perfect as an aperitif—or a main course option if you like some gentle floral notes with your earthy gin botanicals. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a looker and perfect for seasonal springtime sipping.
BLOOD AND SAND
Glenmorangie 10 Year Single Malt Scotch stirred with Luxardo Sangue Morlacco Cherry Liqueur and finished with Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
This is an old-school masterpiece, created in London in the 1920s, so it aligns perfectly with Morton’s classic vibe. Scotch never tasted so mellow. Be warned though: They go down extremely easy.
Morton’s, The Steakhouse, is located at 699 Skokie Boulevard in Northbrook. For more information, call 847-205-5111 or visit mortons.com.