Johnny's On The Spot
Longtime Glenview favorite creates down-home favorites that are simple, but satisfying
It has become increasingly rare to find a place where families and business people alike can come enjoy a good, rib-sticking meal.
Located in the Howard Plaza, Johnny's Kitchen and Tap House, 1740 Milwaukee Ave., has been a favored spot for a hearty meal in a classy atmosphere since 1995.
A low saxophone highlights the smooth jazz that plays at a comfortable volume. The décor features a mix of booths and tables, with the bar and private dining area situated apart from the regular dining room. Even the bathroom had just what I needed — tissues! — to battle my seasonal allergies.
The restaurant is dim, but well lit, which accents the rich earth tones of dark green and brown. Everything about the atmosphere at Johnny's is subdued and respectful — it has a timeless feel.
Content as I was with my soda and breadbasket, owner Mary Venezia suggested any of the seafood appetizers as being a good way to start my meal. Those choices included fried, sautéed or baked shrimp, and fried or grilled calamari. I ultimately settled on the grilled calamari with vegetables, and it did not disappoint.
Large, tender pieces of calamari were surrounded by a colorful litany of veggies like onions, green and red bell peppers, broccoli, peas and celery. The dish came out hot and delicious, coated with a perfect amount of olive oil. A combination of crushed black and red pepper adds a sneaky kick to the dish.
The entrée portion of the menu contains a wide variety of salads, sandwiches, steaks, seafood and pasta. Most of the entrees are in the mid-price range ($12-$17), and the portion sizes are impressive. Johnny's is known for its wood-roasted chicken and ribs so naturally I chose the chicken-rib combination, served with French onion soup, Johnny's famed mashed potatoes and veggies.
A thick layer of Gruyere cheese blanketed the top of my soup with delicious onions in a tasty broth just beneath. It was a good dish, and I loved how the broth seeped into the cheese. My only complaint? Too much cheese, not enough broth.
I was curious to know how most people attacked the quarter-pound chicken that sat in front of me. My waiter, Luis, estimated that 50 percent employed utensils, while the other half dig in with their hands. I began with my utensils, savoring the flavors of the marinated, wood-roasted skin (think olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, herbs and spices). The white meat I found inside was moist and delicious, practically falling off the bone. After careful consideration, I would recommend both methods to eat this bird. It is best eaten with a knife and fork at first, then with your hands to really get at the meat hidden within (the best parts).
The ribs were solid, though not quite as savory as the chicken. Like all of the dishes that I sampled at Johnny's, the presentation was beautiful (see pictures to the right). I liked the sauce, but I wanted more of it. The ribs were good sized, but the meat felt slightly tough.
From the get-go, I knew I was going to indulge in Johnny's popular mashed potatoes with my entrée. The dish had great texture and flavor; very creamy, though I occasionally tasted little chunks of potato here and there, which I loved. The cooked veggies (broccoli and carrots) were unspectacular. I'd rather have had them steamed to maintain their crisp nature.
While many people think that the ever-popular mashed potatoes are made with garlic, they actually only contain milk, cream, butter, salt and pepper. Venezia, the owner, did use garlic until 12 years ago when she read a column from a loyal customer who pined for a return to his mother's way of making mashed potatoes (sans garlic). She tweaked the recipe, and the dish hasn't been the same since.
In my humble opinion, every great meal ought to be capped off with a terrific dessert. Luis recommended the homemade apple pie (served a la mode). It's a classic dessert to begin with; but Johnny's serves local favorite Homer's ice cream with its homemade apple pie, and a good dessert becomes great. The pie had a nice, crispy crust that was a little singed on the edges, but not tough. It gave way to a warm interior that was not too sweet, as can often be the case.
The price point may be one of the best parts about Johnny's. And, if you're going with a larger party (and will be spending more than $75), you can take advantage of gift certificates from restaurant.com. Luis and the rest of the wait staff were attentive and knowledgeable, though it wasn't particularly crowded at the time.
Don't feel like eating in? Johnny's has carry out, catering as well as services to host private parties and banquets.
This is the first in a series of restaurant reviews as food critic Bill Hupp samples the finest culinary creations in Glenview.