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Visiting Chicago’s oldest steakhouse

July 13, 2016 GMT

There is one place in Chicago’s River North area that has been on my must-visit list for many years: Gene & Georgetti’s. I was so excited about this restaurant I am making it a two-part series.

It’s a legendary, reminiscent-of-the-Rat Pack-era restaurant where celebrities and politicians alike would hang out and still do. One of my favorite celebrities, Roe Conn of WGN Talk Radio, is a frequent visitor. Conn has mentioned Gene & Georgetti’s several times on his show, which made me want to visit even more.

Opened in 1941, Gene & Georgetti’s began with partners Gene Michelotti and Alfredo Federighi, who was nicknamed “Georgetti” after a famous Italian cyclist. Many famous names have walked through the doors of this iconic steakhouse. Does the name Sinatra ring a bell? And other legends like Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves, hometown celebrity Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell, along with many famous politicians, have dined and enjoyed libations at the bar.

Gene’s daughter, Marion, and her husband, Tony Durpetti, now have taken over the restaurant and still maintain its tradition.

At 11 a.m., when we arrived, the room was very dark. I noticed photos of celebrities hanging on the dark mahogany paneled walls. The room was reminiscent of a scene from “Oceans 11” (the old version) with a little taste of “The Godfather” — a step back in the ’50s and ’60s when Sinatra ruled.

Gentlemen dressed in tailored suits with silk hankies carefully folded in their pockets began entering the room and finding their seats at the bar. The regulars call themselves the Mahogany Club. The same men come in daily to discuss politics, sports, business and sometimes things a lady wouldn’t want to hear. Our server, Juan, told us that several of them come in early and leave around 4 p.m. One regular even arrives around 10 a.m. and enters through the kitchen door.

The tables in the front all are reserved for the regulars. It was interesting to note that not one millennial worked there or even ate lunch there. All servers are seasoned professionals.

The tables are wood, the chairs red leather; each table is, of course, covered in a white linen tablecloth. The small decorative lamps at each booth give the feel of a true iconic Chicago restaurant of days gone by.

There is no rush to order food; this is leisurely dining. The menus are brought to the table along with a basket of crusty Italian bread. Of course, I ordered a martini at lunch. After all, I did time travel to the ’60s where martinis at lunch were acceptable.

Gene & Georgetti’s will be celebrating its 75th anniversary with a special menu available from July 21-23.It costs $75 for two guests, not including tax and gratuity. All proceeds will benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which honored Gene & Georgetti with the inaugural Chicago Classic award for lifetime achievement at their 2015 Jean Banchet Awards.

I was able to get a copy of the entrée menu: braised short ribs in a red wine reduction with creamy polenta; Chilean sea bass, sautéed Brussels sprouts and mango chutney; Bucatini carbonara, a true classic like Gene & Georgetti; rigatoni with squash ragu; eggplant parmigiana with house-made marinara and mozzarella; surf and turf with a 5-ounce broiled filet mignon and three Gulf of Mexico jumbo broiled shrimp; filet brie, bacon-wrapped beef medallions topped with pecan crust brie; or a 16-ounce broiled rib eye.

Now, if this doesn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know what will. Make those reservations now because this event will pack the joint for sure.

Gene and Georgetti’s is located at 500 N. Franklin St., Chicago. Call 312-527-3718 or check out geneandgeorgetti.com.

I’ll have much more in next week’s column about Sinatra, our experience and some of their wonderful entrees.

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A few months ago, Dave and I went to the Manteno American Legion for their prime rib. I reviewed the dinner and both of us agreed that Manager T.J. Holmes’ prime rib was one of the finest we’ve ever had. A deep brown crust flavored with T.J.’s secret ingredients infuse the meat, making each bite just as delicious as the first.

The American Legion is having their special prime rib dinner on July 30. Tickets are on sale at 815-468-8324. The price for dinner tickets (with salad bar, potato, vegetable and rolls) is $22 per person. I highly recommend it. The Manteno American Legion is located at 117 N. Walnut St.