Fast-casual dining seems to be all the rage these days, with the focus on quality fare served up quickly, so diners can move on to the next stop of the evening. No judgement here--we certainly have taken advantage of this trend on more than one occasion. But there’s something to be said about making dinner an event--taking one’s time, indulging in fine food and drink and soaking up some classic ambiance. When this sort of experience is what you crave, you need to head to Al’s Restaurant.
Al’s has been a downtown fixture for 90 years. That’s right: nine-zero. Nowadays, it’s a bit off the radar, located in the shadow of the casino development and surrounded by construction. While the surroundings have changed greatly over the years, once you step inside, its clear that the restaurant's standards of fine dining haven’t dimmed a bit since the doors first opened in 1925.
Before deciding on a culinary course of action for the evening, we took some time and walked around the space, sipping on a Manhattan ($10) and taking in the history. The bar area replicates a classic riverboat, complete with filagreed pillars, stained glass on the restroom doors, and a mural of a riverfront from days long gone by.
There’s no printed menu at Al’s. Rather, our waiter (adorned in a classic dark suit and bowtie combo) presented the fine cuts to us on a silver tray and proceeded to describe all of the various preparations from memory.
We began with Steak Tartar ($30) and Stuffed Mushrooms ($16). The two enormous mushroom caps came stuffed with rich crabmeat and were definitely a meal in and of themselves.
Next up, a Cesar Salad for two ($20). Watching a skilled server prepare this classic salad table-side is something not to be missed. The result was as delicious as the preparation was mesmerizing.
For mains, we chose an 8-ounce filet and had it prepared in two very different ways. The Beef Romano ($54) is Al’s signature dish. The filet is butterflied, then stuffed with prosciutto and romano cheese, breaded and sauteed in olive oil. For a side, crispy, savory Lyonnaise potatoes ($6). Rich, decadent--these superlatives don’t even come close to describing this dish. We then took that same 8-ounce filet, had it cooked medium rare, and topped with cream cognac peppercorn sauce ($52), paired up with a traditional baked potato ($7). A true steakhouse classic, and perhaps the best cut of this type we’ve had in this town.
Dessert was a foregone conclusion this night--we just didn’t have it in us for one more bite, though the Bananas Foster is on our list for next time.
It goes without saying that service at Al’s is impeccable. The servers hearken back to a time when this job was a profession, not a part-time gig during college. And don’t let parking worries keep you away--there’s free valet service available.
We’ve heard tell that the future of Al’s may be in peril due to the proposed stadium project downtown. Hopefully, this is not the case, because we’d be losing a true local treasure. For classic fine dining downtown--or anywhere--this is the spot.
-- 1200 N. First St., 421-6399, alsrestaurant.net