The last time I was at Jonathan’s On Brick Street was the second time I was at Jonathan’s On Brick Street. The first time I was there, it was a Friday night shortly after they opened and fish fry was on the agenda. They ran out of tartar sauce and several other things that were crucial to a proper Friday night fish fry, and I left with a feeling that I needed to wait for quite a while before a return visit. After that while had passed, I returned, again for fish fry. This time the fish was better and the service was better but the credit card machine didn’t work and after the meal was over my table spent upwards of an hour after waiting for the machine to work. It didn’t, so we left our credit card numbers on a slip of paper and hoped for the best. Even though both visits were plagued with some variety of mishap, I still had the feeling that Jonathan’s was both a good space and a good concept and that it would, in time, become an important component of our local dining scene. And it has.
That’s why I returned to Jonathan’s last night, this time with Nick Vorpagel, chief meat guy at Lake Geneva Country Meats. Whether or not his business card agrees with that title I cannot be certain, but to me, and to this area, Nick is an important piece of our food scene. Lake Geneva Country Meats has made great strides over recent years to improve their offerings, to expand their options, and to generally be better. It’s a nice improvement, and their often jammed up parking lot proves that the community has taken notice. I met Nick at 5:30 last night and because it was a cold night I asked to be seated by one of the two fireplaces that I spied in the westerly dining room. The hostess obliged and led us to our four top by a fireplace.
It wasn’t until I was closer to the fireplace that I noticed its grave condition. Not only was it not wood, it wasn’t gas. And not only was there no gas, it wasn’t even a direct vent (the ones with blue flames and cloudy glass and the seared stains of small children’s fingerprints forever embedded in the opaque shroud). And not only was it not a direct vent fireplace, it turned out to be electric. Even once I discovered the painful truth that it was electric, the synthetic flicker of electric fire light wasn’t even operating. So this was a terrible and bitter disappointment and I had yet to order.
Nick wasn’t as bothered by the fireplace as I was, or so it appeared. He was more intent on listening to the waitress as she described the menu and listed the Wednesday night specials. They were numerous. Some steak with warm water lobster tails, some steak with shrimp, etc and etc. I pretended to listen but I already knew what I was going to order. I asked the waitress what cut of steak she recommended. The choices were varied, but she responded firmly and quickly that the ribeye ($28) was her favorite. As it is mine, and so I ordered the ribeye with some sautéed vegetables and for my potato I chose a red potato with basil. Never mind that the red potato with basil would be drowning in butter; my paleo convictions only run so deep. I ordered my ribeye medium, while Nick ordered his medium rare. A true steak man. He opted to add one of their steak accoutrements in the form of sautéed onions and in lieu of my red potatoes he went with the garlic mashed. All in all, we had been seated, we discovered the misery of the electric fireplace, we had our orders taken and our water glasses filled and all of that by 5:43.
The meals arrived by 6:06, which was a nice and appropriate gap between ordering and eating. The restaurant wasn’t busy, but I was surprised to see it in reasonably active form for a Wednesday in February. The plating of the ribeye was nicely churched up and beautifully presented. The steak had textbook grill marks (which I missed on that lean Fire2Fork steak), the plate had a generous sprinkler of chopped parsley, and for an added piece of flair, some pea tendrils (or otherwise some sort of tendril) was placed around the margin of the plate. As if that wasn’t enough, an edible flower was tucked on the side of the steak and a sprig of rosemary saluted from the top of the potatoes. Nice. Without hesitation, I cut into my ribeye.
The first bite was fine. The steak lacked salt. The surface of the steak, while hatched with grill marks, was soft, leading me (and Nick) to believe that the grill wasn’t as hot as it could have been. There was no char. My steak was cooked to the rare side of medium, and even though other steaks on this tour have been cooked a tick or two too well or too rare, this steak was several ticks to the rare side of medium. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been an issue if the cut of steak itself wasn’t so fatty and ladened with connective tissue. In a rare steak, this tissue doesn’t have time to dissolve or otherwise soften, and the result was a plate of gristle and fat. Nick’s keen eye towards steak let me know that the cut I received must have come from the back end of the rib roast.
Nick’s steak was better than mine. His was a thicker cut and lacked the mess of connective tissue that plagued mine. He surmised that his cut came from the front end of the rib, which made it a better, slightly leaner piece. In spite of the lack of char and salt, Nick did commend the restaurant on the cut of meat itself. It was a quality steak, likely hand cut, and coming from him, this is reasonably high praise.
The sautéed vegetables weren’t really sautéed as much as they were steamed. There were no heat marks on any of the vegetables, and they were cooked to an overly soft state. My potatoes were fine, but I was surprised that the basil appeared to be dried basil flakes and not fresh chopped basil as I would have preferred. Nick’s vegetables were similarly over-softened, and his garlic mashed potatoes could have used a bit of salt and perhaps a bit more cream. Chef Tip: when in doubt, add heavy whipping cream. To Everything.
On this cold night, my third try at Jonathan’s was not without some continued difficulty. My steak really wasn’t very good. The vegetables were too soft. The potatoes burdened by the addition of dried (in actuality or just in appearance and taste) basil. I like Jonathan’s. The space is nice and there is visible effort in the preparations and menu construction. I like that Nick discerned the steak to be of fine quality. But on this night, the steak didn’t stack up. The fatty ribeye at Anthony’s was better. The lean strip steak at Fire2Fork was better. This is why I do this review in rapid succession. Had I gone without a ribeye for three months I may have given this Wednesday night steak a higher grade. But three weeks in, my steak palate is nicely seasoned, and sadly, this steak wasn’t.
Jonathan’s On Brick Street
$28 for the Ribeye