111 Rivals the Classic Chicago Chophouse

The Sunday Telegram
By Bill Cory

The 111 Chop House is a sibling of Worcester’s indomitable Sole Proprietor. As the ads imply, this is surf and turf done the hard way – one whole restaurant for each.

The 111 is like a classic, old Chicago chophouse without the dust – and the beef is about as close as you can get to Chicago’s. Decades after the famed stockyards became an industrial park, Chicago somehow still has the best beef. Go figure. Or go here; it’s closer and costs less.

There’s a bustling bar near the entry, complete with its own grill for late nights when the dining room’s closed. Beyond the bar is a large center dining room with smaller, more intimate corners set off by a few steps and a glassed-in, private dining room. It’s all high-ceilinged, elegant, dignified and usually noisy because it’s usually busy.

Beef carparccio, clams casino, portobello fritters, cherrystones and (can you believe it- even here!) wings, are each $6.99. Soup du jour is $3.99; onion soup au gratin $4.99 and smoke Irish salmon, $5.99. Shrimp cocktail or a sushi sampler plate each cost $7.99. Choose (or try to choose) either Cajun shrimp with warm tomato and mozzarella salad, or softshell crab over sweet corn salsa and roasted red pepper aioli, for $8.99. Of course, that special Sole appetizer is here, too: a chilled platter of shrimp, oysters, clams and mussels for $17.99 or $13 more with a whole chilled lobster alongside. Go ahead. You’ll be able to tell friends you once ate a $31 appetizer. They’ll all guess it was caviar.

A good-size pair of spicy-hot Cajun shrimp with warm tomato and mozzarella salad, $8.99, came with a superb sweet tomato sauce. Our favorite appetizer was a half-dozen portobello mushroom fritters with Parmesan cheese, for $6.99. Crunchy, delicate and delicious, they boasted a wonderful, sweet sauce. Your choice of salad is included with each entrée, which is unusual among upscale steakhouses. Choose the house salad, or field greens or marinated cherry tomatoes with Bermuda onions.

The delightful house salad is simple hearts of lettuce once common in these lands. Upon that wedge of crisp and perfect iceberg is a creamy dressing and lots of crumbled Stilton cheese. Stilton is a wonderful but powerful English blue cheese, great with fresh pears and terrific in this simple salad. However, it is the first cheese we learned to buy in small quantities. You want no leftovers. Stilton won’t really take the enamel off the inside of your refrigerator, but it soon smells as though it could. Stilton is to blue cheese as Limburger is to Velveeta.

From a well-thought-out wine list only a little smaller that the Worcester Yellow Pages, we chose a delightful ’99 Sonoma County merlot by Rabbit Ridge for $33. Red wine always makes us feel good about the big, rare steak we’re planning to devour. We assure ourselves that even the cholesterol-laden French diet qualifies as health food when enjoyed with red wine.

“Signature entrées” change weekly. Our menu offered a dozen: chicken, salmon, scallops, halibut, veal, roast lamb, smoked port, duck and beef all interestingly prepared and each $17 to $20, except tenderloin stuffed with wild mushrooms for $23. Haddock, salmon and swordfish are $17 to $22; a 2-pound lobster is $35, and a pound of Alaskan King crab legs is $39.99. The mixed grille of filet mignon, blackened jumbo shrimp and confit of duck is $23. One of our guests ordered the mixed grille, although he insisted he doesn’t like duck. He’s now planning a quick return; he’ll skip the excellent mixed grille – all he wants is more of that duck. A veal rib chop is $23; sliced tenderloin costs $24 and a rack of lamb is $24.99. Seven steaks are priced from $20 to $26.

Soup Specialist ordered rack of lamb, which is really two frenched, good-size twin chops with a red wine, whole-grain mustard reduction. The one morsel I got to try was first-rate. I guarded my $25.99 pound-and-a-half Porterhouse steak carefully, too. It was cut with a nice, big tenderloin, flawlessly aged and perfectly prepared, delivering exceptional flavor with “Chicago” tenderness and quality.

Nine side dishes are generously portioned and each cost $3.99 to $5.99. That top price brings a large serving of fresh asparagus with perfect Hollandaise. We think that $4.99 au gratin potatoes and a glass of water might be, on its own, the best affordable dinner in the commonwealth. The portion is ample, and the balance of potato, cheese and cream is utterly flawless. Hands down, the best au gratin potatoes we’ve tasted. Don’t miss them.

Crepes Suzette, $5.99, made a light and delicious dessert for Soup Specialist, who’s a big fan of crepes and custard. Our chocolate and caramel bread pudding was $6.99 and notably decadent, even for someone who’s just polished off a 24-oz. Porterhouse steak. It’s a big, wonderful dessert with homemade caramel; half of it went home and then quickly vanished.

Our superb dinner with wine was $128.42, excluding tax and tip.

The 111 and its fishy cousin on Highland Street deliver the details. Everything that’s not aged is impeccably fresh. There’s plenty of imagination in the menus and skill in the kitchens and little room for improvement in concept, preparation or management. Any city would count itself lucky to have one restaurant like 111 or the Sole; Worcester has the matched set.