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Thursday, March 17, 2005 04:06 am

appetite 3-17-05


Several things make a steakhouse a steakhouse: a slightly smoky piano bar, comfortable seating, and thick, juicy slabs of steak.

Gallagher’s reminds me of the restaurants I visited as a child when I went out with my parents and their friends for a nice meal on a Saturday night — a white-linen-tablecloth kind of place, formal enough for suits and ties, where ball caps and jeans are welcome as well.

Soft piano music plays as you enter the restaurant, which is divided into intimate dining rooms lit by the warm glow of chandeliers. Comfortably upholstered high-backed chairs invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy a leisurely meal.

There’s a lot to like about Gallagher’s, but let’s start with the steak. One local business owner tells me when he wants to treat his wife to a good steak, he heads for Gallagher’s. I see his point. You can get ribeye, top sirloin, ground steak, pepper steak, New York strip, filet mignon, crabmeat-stuffed fillet, or prime rib. Prices range from $14.95 for the 16-ounce top sirloin to $22.95 for the large cut of filet mignon.

My husband and I dined at Gallagher’s recently with another couple. One of the men ordered prime rib, the other top sirloin. The prime rib was tender and pink, as it should be, with just bit of fat marbleizing the meat, and was served with horseradish sauce. The sirloin, ordered medium-rare, was firm and flavorful. It was cooked nearly perfectly, although it was slightly more done on one part than on the other. Those who desire an extra touch of flavor — although these steaks really don’t need it — may choose blue-cheese sauce; Cajun blackening; mushrooms, onions, and peppers; or the house specialty, the divine-sounding Escoffier topping, made with sweet butter, garlic, and blue cheese.

I chose the pecan-encrusted pork chops. The two large chops were tender and perfectly prepared, but unfortunately the nuts proved a distraction from the meat buried beneath them. Although this lovely dish would benefit from a lighter coating of nuts, the homemade apple-ginger chutney spooned over the meat lent a pleasant zing of flavor and spice.

A highlight of the meal was the tossed dinner salad that came with each entrée. The large bowl of crisp lettuce, tomato, and cucumber was better than average, but it was the house dressing that really merits mention here. The thick, creamy, sweet dressing contained large chunks of warm, cooked bacon, with which the salad was also topped.

Gallagher’s offers diners several appetizers, additional salads (including a dinner-size blackened-steak Caesar), chicken, and fish. We skipped the appetizers, which ranged from pesto-stuffed scallops to crab cakes. (The most interesting of the lot was the battered and fried asparagus.) We did try the pasta primavera, which consisted of a large bowl of linguine noodles tossed with a nice variety of vegetables, including broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, and red peppers. The yellow Alfredo sauce that dressed the dish was milder and less smothering than some I’ve had and provided a nice creamy counterpoint to the pasta.

Gallagher’s offers a nice wine list, but the waitress will gladly offer you an old-fashioned after-dinner drink such as a grasshopper (crème de menthe, vodka, and ice cream).

Gallagher’s is located at 2242 S. Sixth St.; 217-522-8888. Hours: 5-11 p.m. Tue.-Sat. The piano bar is open 8 p.m.-midnight Fri. and Sat.

St. Pat’s leftovers

Corned Beef and Corn Chowder

Use your St. Patrick’s Day leftovers to make a hearty soup. Corned beef is flavorful, so a little goes a long way.

One serving cooking spray (five one-second sprays per serving)
One medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
4 ounces lean corned beef, diced (about 1 cup)
10 ounces frozen corn kernels
45 fluid ounces canned cream-of-potato soup made with fat-free milk
1/8 teaspoon black pepper or to taste

Coat a large soup pot with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft (about five minutes). Stir in thyme, corned beef, and corn; cook, stirring, for two or three minutes more. Stir in potato soup and bring to a simmer. Let soup simmer for five minutes and season to taste with pepper. Yields about 1 heaping cup per serving.

Flavor booster: Fennel seed, with a flavor similar to rye, is a wonderful complement to corned beef. Add 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seed to the potato soup and reduce the thyme by half.

— Recipe courtesy of Weight Watchers

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