At Gibsons Italia, a Famed Chicago Steakhouse Adds Pasta to the Mix
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse in Chicago has been renowned for the quality of its USDA prime beef and the perfection of its ice-cold martinis since it opened its doors on Rush Street in 1989.
Last year, Gibsons Restaurant Group, which has a total of nine concepts in 14 different locations, dished out 500,000 pounds of its Angus beef: It is the only restaurant group in the country to have its own USDA certification. (Beyond three Gibson steakhouses, the group also owns Lux Bar, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, and Quartino Ristorante and it helped introduce the Polo Bar in New York and RL Bar & Grill in Chicago.)
It also sold a total of 65,000 martinis at the flagship Gibsons steakhouse and its two suburban outposts. Not bad.
For its newest spot, Gibsons is moving beyond its steak-and-cocktail mentality, sort of. On Monday, Oct. 23, the group, which is owned by the Lombardo family, will open Gibsons Italia. Set alongside the $500 million, 52-story River Point Complex in the burgeoning West Loop neighborhood, the restaurant is giving pasta and other Italian specialties prime real estate on the menu with its beef.
A Winning Steak Formula
Gibsons has been successful with its steak program. In 2016, the company’s sales were $162 million; for 2017, they are projected to be $172 million. Last year, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse ranked No. 8 in the country among top-grossing independent restaurants with five or fewer U.S. locations, according to Restaurant Business Online, and the Rush Street spot was Chicago’s top-grossing independent restaurant, with $23.6 million.
This project has been in the works for two years, according to Liz Lombardo, director of marketing, whose father, Steve Lombardo, co-founded the original Gibsons. “We were approached by River Point Complex, who wanted a steakhouse for tenants in the building. But Gibsons [in the Gold Coast] isn’t too far away. We decided we would try something a little different, with a little steak, a little Italian, and blend in the best of both worlds.”
The new restaurant departs from the classic Gibsons steakhouse vibe—whereby red leather banquettes dominate the floor and old framed photographs decorate the walls. The new, modern, three-story structure evokes Milan, with deep-colored booths decorated with saddle stitching and dining-room chairs modeled after ones made for racing car entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari. The bar is set on the bottom level, the second floor is the dining room, and the top floor is dedicated to a lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows, a retractable roof, and tremendous views of the skyline and the Chicago River.
Beef will play a major role at the restaurant. An entire section is dedicated to Gibsons USDA prime Angus beef, including a 16-ounce, bone-in New York strip for $54, a 22-ounce Chicago cut for $59, and a 36-ounce, dry-aged, long-bone rib-eye for $125. And for the first time, Gibsons will stock an international selection of beef. Executive chef Jose Sosa gets Japanese Kobe from the Hyogo prefecture—specifically, A5 sirloin for $35 per ounce. There’s grass-fed Australian N.Y. strip, aged for at least 75 days ($46); bone-in filet mignon ($42); and Piedmontese beef carpaccio as an antipasto.
To validate the “Italia” in its name, the new Gibsons has a section devoted to Crudo (bigeye tuna with oyster crema) and Frutti di Mare (lobster cocktail with asparagus tips and Meyer lemon, market priced). Instead of Soup & Salads on the original menu, there’s Insalata (including an iceberg wedge with Gorgonzola and crisp pancetta). Antipasti include 24-month prosciutto di San Danielle with grilled bread and compressed melon.
The most notable nod to the Italian influence is the pasta, made in house daily. Under a section that sounds as though it were excerpted from a Portlandia episode, the Gold Extruded Pasta is made from Italian heritage organic stone-ground flour. “Gold extruded” refers to the metal tool, imported from Italy, that cuts and shapes the pasta; chef Sosa claims it is the only restaurant in the U.S. with one. The benefit of these casts, according to Sosa, is that the soft metal creates an extra wheaty flavor and ever-so-slightly irregular texture to the pasta, which helps the sauce adhere. The pastas on the menu lean to classic—spaghettini al pomodoro, fusilli with Neapolitan beef and onion sugo, and linguine with clams and chili, white or red.
A specialty of the house will be risotto, studded with scallops and baby leeks and made from 7-year-aged rice, for $29.
Beverage director Lawrence Kobesky has created a list of 10 classic cocktails that features highballs, a spritz menu, and a white Negroni. “This is for the people who just want their drink, who don’t need a 19-ingredient cocktail,” he says. The 290-bottle wine list will range from a $40 Zweigelt to a $5,000 Petrus, and 25 wines can be ordered by the glass. There’s also a selection of Midwest whiskeys highlighting the region’s small-batch distilleries.
The bar menu will include crudo, panini such as the PLT (butcher’s cut pancetta, tomato, endive, crema di provolone and fries), antipasti (Italia meatballs with Corso ricotta) and entrée options such as filet mignon and spaghetti al pomodoro.
Liz Lombardo is already looking ahead to future outposts of her family’s iconic restaurant. “We would love to open a classic Gibsons in a different market, it’s just about finding the right location. We’re always looking to expand. And that goes for Gibsons Italia, too. But maybe I should wait for this one to open.”