A former meat-packing plant transformed, appropriately enough, into an Italian steakhouse, Erie Cafe lies just far enough away from River North's main scene to avoid the commotion. The eatery resembles a classic club-lounge atmosphere; a bright neon-pink and yellow sign hanging outside will draw you in, but the inside feels much more relaxed and understated. With cedar ceilings, exposed brick walls, wood-planked floors and original oil paintings, the dining room, which seats 380 people, feels a bit like a fine hotel's bar. White table cloths brighten the charming space, floral curtains provide shade from large framed windows and antique looking chandeliers loom from above.
Open for lunch and dinner, Erie serves a variety of plates to satisfy the palate. Known for its steaks and chops (it's owned by members of the Gene & Georgetti family, after all), it also offers a well-portioned seafood selection, pastas and sandwiches. Specialties include the chopped steak with melted blue cheese, chicken vesuvio, lasagna and salmon filet. Lunch items cost $10-$20, while dinners run $20-$40.
The extensive wine list, which changes daily, will impress even the toughest wine snobs. A good place to host a party, the cafe has a private room with a small dance floor, bar and fireplace.
Be sure to make reservations, especially during warmer months. This gem is known for its riverfront outdoor seating. Even so, one of the highlights of dining here, among many, is free valet parking in this parking-space sparse part of town.
Average cost: $31+
Centerstage Reviewer: Janis Mabalay