So, we're hanging out deciding what to do for dinner. Lotsa suggestions, no decisions. "Let's just go", I say and we pile into the old Chevy station wagon, heading out with restaurant names and locations swirling in my mind, just out of reach. I closed my eyes and remembered a place about 15 minutes away that I've always thought about trying.
"Where we goin? Where we goin?" I kept them guessing as we sped down the Tollway to J. Alexander's on Lake Cook Road in Northbrook, IL. I've seen the red letters of their sign from Lake Cook heading east and west and even from the Tollway heading north. It's one of those places that you forget about until you see it and it's always on the way to somewhere else. Tonight, I made it our destination.
We ordered some dip and grilled calamari to get started. My buddy, Lisle wanted to do a shot of Tequila, so I perused the menu and gave him a choice of Patron Silver or Senior Rio Anejo. The Patron was $8, the Rio was $12, but I didn't tell him the prices. He picked Senior Rio and we ordered 3 shots.
The dip arrived first, accompanied by chips and salsa. So far so good. The Tequila arrived next and was quickly dispatched. Also very good. Grilled calamari, not so much. It swam in a cheesy sauce and could've been sauteed or something, definitely not grilled. The waitress stared at it, shrugged her shoulders and hauled it back to the kitchen as we finished off the dip.
The Return of Calamari was inauspicious, at best. It looked like they plopped the sauteed squid on a grill for a few minutes and scooped it back into its serving dish. It was terrible, it was anything BUT grilled and we ate it anyway like starving castaways. The rest of the food was OK. Not spectacular, but it was good. Let me skip to the check.
Our modest meal ran about $50 per person, not too surprising when you add in the $12 shots. What was surprising is that the $12 shots rang in at $13.50. Talk about insult to injury. Our well-informed waitress shrugged and said there was an "upcharge" when you order liquor "neat". Seeing as how "neat" is about the simplest way to order liquor, I don't know what lower standard of bar service we could have ordered at the $12 level. Maybe they just pour it on the table and have you lick it up.
Ms. Shrugging Shoulders didn't have anything else to say and soon Manager Keith appeared. His explanations were equally as puzzling. He eventually resorted to the company shoulder shrug and said that was just the way it rings up. . Still don't know what that means, but apparently ordering a $12 shot of Tequila will cost you $13.50.
Not wanting to kill the rest of my evening, I shook his hand and left. Now, I'm no restaurateur, but I do frequent a number of eating establishments. At 8:00 PM on this particular Friday night we had our choice of a table or a booth, no rez, no waiting. Our $200 contribution to their nightly receipt should have gotten us a little more than "just the way it rings up".
He could've taken off the extra $1.50 per drink charge. He could have bought us a round of cheap Tequila. He could've comp-ed the one piece of carrot cake we all shared, especially since we told them when we sat down that is was both couples' anniversary. He chose to do nothing. And that is what I will remember each time I pass the big red letters "J. Alexander's".