Morton's of Chicago

1415 Walnut Street
(215) 557-0724

This brassy restaurant's premises used to be situated just beyond the Parkway on 19th Street, bounded by Cherry. It is a block upon which no Philadelphian worth his or her weight in salt pretzels had ever laid eyes. Our city's dwellers are notoriously absent even from places of historic note. We abstain from visits to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Billy Penn's Hat. Hardly any of us have returned more than once to Betsy Ross' house, usually with our children who, in turn, will never be back until presiding over a group of theirs. Nothing even remotely significant has ever happened on 19th Street. Certainly no Philadelphian would place a restaurant there. Now, Morton's of Chicago, albeit an out-of-towner, has taken the cue and changed its locus delecti.

Now at 1415 Walnut Street, a block from Foo and Fin, and immediately within the ken of Tiffany's, Polo shops and assorted Platinum Card vendor-sites, this second story eatery gains new stature. To enter, one must climb a few banks of stairs, or elevate to a foyer facing the clubroom's bar.

A 25-foot bar with overhead T.V. occupies the attention of cliques of well-dressed under-30-year-olds. To the left are banquettes of beige leather and vinyl; to the right a grand dining area at whose back is an open kitchen where ovens are smoking with racks of steaks and chops. The rooms are ensconced with recessed lighting every 10 yards as if the ceiling were an overhead football field. Those seated review the open-field running of tuxedoshirt-clad waiters and waitresses also wearing aprons and black pants. Aromas are swarthy and bloody.

The decor is movie-set prohibition Chicago. It's not so much the rich mahogany wood or the emerald green rug or the omnipresent chair rails and copper pots. Nor are the Playboy mansion's Leroy Neiman paintings anything especially Illi-noising. There's rather a pace to the service, the demeanor and long-winded breeziness of the waitstaff's introduction and explanations that smack of Midwestern cacophony.

First to arrive at your table is a mound of hot onion bread and creamery butter. Don't touch either! Appetizers are then offered. Don't fiddle with them, no matter how scrumptious the Caesar Salad ($6.95) looks, packed with Parmesan and croutons, and no matter how mouth watering the Morton's Salad ($6.95) appears, pilloried with chopped eggs atop which are criss-crossed anchovy fillets.

The Broiled Sea Scallops Wrapped in Bacon with apricot chutney and the Shrimp Alexander in sauce beurre blanc (each $10.95) are fresh and jumbo versions of, respectively, hastily heated and turgidly chilled savory seafood. It shall take enormous willpower to stick to aphasia when these are suggested. Silently swim away from the seafood!

Instead, hear yourself say: "I'll have, please, a Porterhouse, medium, and hashbrowns," or "I'll have, please, a Prime Rib, double center cut, medium, a Baked Idaho Potato with sour cream and bacon, and sauteed Wild Mushrooms." Make ready your stainless steel silverware with shell design and your wooden-handled steak knife for a meal the size of the caboose on Chicago's old Silver Streak.

The steaks are aged and marbled. The Porterhouse (part strip and part filet) ($30.95) and Prime Rib ($30.95) are done almost exactly to order if you know that the kitchen tends to undercook a notch. The Rib, served with a pitcher of horseradish sauce, is high and wide, sitting as if it were a Sumo wrestler flexing, waiting for you to attempt to push it off the oval white plate. The Porterhouse, accompanied with hollandaise if you like, is lower, but as aerodynamic as a brand new iBook™ laptop.

Jostle your knife above and veer deeply into either. The meat is so tender that the serrated edge carves through it like wet lips through cotton candy. From sizzling, crusty-brown edges toward the molten pink middle, the Porterhouse seems to sweat and steam, fretting your fork's arrival. A two-inch cube of beef shudders of its own juiciness as it reaches mouthward. The eighth-pound of warm flesh is juggled past one's teeth toward waiting tongue. There's hardly a chance to chew as the meat succumbs, melting upon the slightest push of palate.

The Prime Rib is a course of another color (crimson), whose underlying platter must be turned at every cut so that your elbows and arms may gain angles and leverage. There's a mountain of beef that cannot be finished. Call for a tow-truck rather than a doggie-bag.

Morton's Baked Idaho Potato ($4.50) is the size of a senior partner's ego. Stuffed with globs of butter, sour cream and bacon, the spud is just as full of excess. A portion of Hash Browns ($4.95) requires that a shovel be the utensil of choice. Portage of these shredded carbohydrates is not artful. The Wild Mushrooms ($7.95) are bursts of buttery balms, exploding upon the syntaxes of one's salivary glands, enrapturing and capturing a stunned cerebellum.

If we were to compare the restaurant's change of neighborhood to that of an attorney hooking up with a new firm, one might call Morton's a "lateral move." It remains what it had been, a blustery shebang serving portions of abundance above a noisy youthful din. Somehow the Chicago brass seems less sparkling and shiny in the new digs. Notwithstanding, remember never to eat more than your brief case can carry.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back