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Thursday, July 15, 2004 02:52 pm

Alexander’s offers the thrill of the grill

Here's a puzzle for any restaurant critic: How do you review a restaurant where patrons cook their own main courses? The answer: Focus on the restaurant's atmosphere and the experience -- and trust diners to judge their own grill skills. By that standard, Alexander's Steakhouse offers a fun change of pace for meat lovers.

At Alexander's, it's all about the meat -- big, juicy slabs of aged Midwestern beef, cut daily by in-house butchers. Options include top sirloin, teriyaki top sirloin (marinated in soy sauce, sugar, and spices), Santa Maria-style top sirloin (hand-rubbed with spices), New York strip, ribeye, petite fillet, and kebabs. Prices range from $16.99 to $30. The menu also includes chicken breast, smoked pork chops, lobster tail, swordfish, and other seafood.

The diner selects an entrée from a large case near the entrance, then slaps it on one of the restaurant's two large grills. People seem to enjoy standing around the grill and tending their steaks. As smoke rises from the coals, diners chat, sip their beverages, and carefully monitor their steaks while heating up prebaked potatoes and toasting thick slices of white bread. Tubs of butter and a variety of spices in large shakers are scattered along a brick ledge so that patrons can season their meals. It's almost as much fun to watch people in action -- especially the ones who take their grilling seriously -- as it is to eat.

Most diners cook their own meals, but a chef will do the work for an additional $2.49. (The menu does state this fact, but I didn't notice it, and our waitress didn't make it clear that an additional fee would be imposed.) The other three people in my party opted to cook their own food, but that didn't appeal to me, and I let the chef prepare mine. I selected the teriyaki kebab and ordered it medium rare. It was perfectly prepared -- and I didn't miss standing over the smoky grill one bit.

My dinner companions ordered the Kansas City strip, top sirloin, and kebab. Of the four selections, my teriyaki steak was the best. The marinated steak was tender and full of rich flavor. Everyone seemed satisfied; my father even called his the best steak he'd ever had. My husband was aiming for a rare steak and ended up with something that was still mooing, but he had only himself to blame.

The chef says the biggest problem for diners is timing things so that the steak is ready just after they finish their salads. Having the chef prepare my kebab took care of that problem for me, but my companions were a bit puzzled by the job of coordinating their salads and entrées with the arrival of my food. We ended up eating in shifts.

For those who want to stretch the stomach and the wallet, Alexander's offers a special, the Beefeater's Challenge, priced at $38.99. The customers who finishes a three-pound top sirloin in one hour wins a $15 gift certificate and becomes a member of the Beefeaters Club. A plaque on the wall lists the names of people who have performed this feat.

Dinners include an all-you-can-eat salad bar, baked potato, and toast. The salad bar is well stocked, boasting fresh spinach, eggs, supersize carrot sticks, potato salad and more -- a broader and fresher selection than what you'll find at most local salad bars. Side orders such as onion rings (a full pound for $7.99), sautéed mushrooms, and potato skins are also available.

Desserts include a large chocolate-chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge, whipped cream, and toasted almonds. It costs $5.99 and is big enough to share. Cheesecake, hot-fudge sundaes, and ice cream are also available.

The children's menu includes a 6-ounce steak kebab, steak burger, and hot dog. Children (10 and under) can dine for $1.50 on Sundays. During the rest of the week, children are charged on the basis of age (50 cents per year) for a meal that includes salad bar, french fries, beverage, and ice cream.


Alexander's Steakhouse is located at 620 Bruns Lane,

793-0440. Hours: 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 5-11 p.m. Thu., 4-11 p.m. Fri., 4-9 p.m. Sat. and Sun.

Send restaurant news to Penny Zimmerman-Wills at pzwills@illinoistimes.com.

More tofu

There's now one more place in town to get basil chicken and fried tofu. Thai Kitchen 2 opened this week in the spot formerly occupied by China One. The owner is Sangthong Thapanya, who formerly operated Thai Kitchen, 620 N. Ninth St., with his sister. He was also one of the original owners of Magic Kitchen. The restaurant offers appetizers (including the popular egg rolls with peanut sauce), soups and noodles, rice, and vegetarian dishes. A limited lunch menu is available. Take out and dine in are available. The restaurant accepts cash only.

Thai Kitchen 2 is located at 2355 W. Monroe St., 726-5900.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.


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