A's List: Oldies but Goodies Re-Inventing Themselves for Next Generation

Deer Path Inn, established in 1929, is located in Lake Forest. (Photo: Deer Path Inn)

By Audarshia Townsend

Chicago’s innovative restaurant scene goes far beyond the gastronomic giants of today. It goes back to a time when diners dressed to the nines and treated dining out as an event. It was also a period when you could sit at the table next to a celebrity sans bodyguards.

But I digress. What’s fascinating is that while scores of these historic establishments still exist, only a small percentage has updated dramatically to appeal to the next generation. From a Thai sensation adding an abbreviated tasting menu to a romantic fondue favorite in Lincoln Park, we check out some of Chicago’s most notable (See also my segment on the very same topic on WGN Morning News).

Arun's is credited for introducing Chicago to authentic Thai cuisine. (Photo: Arun's)

Arun’s Thai Restaurant

Why We Love It. Credited for introducing Chicagoans to authentic Thai cuisine, Arun Sampanthavivat opened his fine-dining restaurant more than 30 years ago in Albany Park. His unique, artistic spin on Arun’s tasting menus helped earn him a James Beard award as well as a mention in the New York Times’ best seller, “1,000 Places To See Before You Die.” In 2017, he introduced an abbreviated, six-course menu for diners wanting to experience the restaurant for half the price and time. That’s very appealing to younger guests who might not want to get locked into the 10- or 12-course tasting menus. Arun’s has also added a Thai-focused cocktail program that pairs dishes with drinks.

What To Eat/Drink. The six-course tasting menu consists of three appetizers, two entrees and a dessert. Expect it to change seasonally, however, staples such as the purple blossom dumpling stuffed with minced chicken, fried red snapper and a golden pouch of taro root and Dungeness crab are always on the menu.

When To Go. The abbreviated menu is available 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday as well as Sunday. It’s $75 per person.

Expect the legendary Pump Room to transform into Booth One later this fall. (Photo: The Pump Room)

Booth One

Why We Love It. Gold Coast icon The Pump Room opened in 1938 to much fanfare and quickly became a hot spot for A-Listers rolling through Chicago. From Bogart to Bowie—plus Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray and many, many others—celebrities have graced this space that will soon transform into Booth One this fall. The Pump Room will be re-named Booth One because that table was reserved for the restaurant’s VIP guests. Located on the first level of the Ambassador East hotel, Booth One is owned by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), which owned the establishment in the 1980s and 1990s. While there will be an actual “booth one,” which will be reserved for elite customers, LEYE proclaims that everyone will be treated like a celebrity here.   

What To Eat/Drink. The menu is still being finalized, but expect re-imagined American classic dishes.

When To Go. Booth One opens later this fall and will be open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Classic American dishes and re-imagined pub grub may be found at Deer Path Inn, which opened more than 90 years ago in Lake Forest. (Photo: Deer Path Inn)

Deer Path Inn

Why We Love It. Established in 1929, the historic Deer Path Inn was designed to resemble an old English manor home. It's situated in upscale Lake Forest, located on Chicago's prominent North Shore. In recent years, Deer Path Inn has re-envisioned its concept for accommodations, dining and drinking--without stripping away its original interior/exterior. There are also three unique dining spaces, including the cozy and communal Hearth Room  and White Hart Pub.

What To Eat/Drink. White Hart Pub serves the type of pub grub you’ll want to dig into on a chilly winter evening. There’s a Scotch egg that’s been updated with Italian sausage, plus roasted bone-in chicken and a traditional Welsh lamb stew of carrots, peas, turnips, celery and Yorkshire pudding. 

When To Go. English tea is particularly popular at Deer Path Inn. It occurs 2-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and overseen by Malcolm Ferris-Lay, master of tea, whose family has been connected with the tea trade since 1842.

Fondue favorite Geja's was established in Lincoln Park more than 50 years ago. (Photo: Geja's Cafe)

Geja’s Café

Why We Love It. Since 1965, Geja's has been serving cheese fondue, fondue bourguignonne, chocolate fondue and more. Consistently named one of the country's most romantic establishments to dine, Geja's boasts two to three engagement proposals a week. Intimate and memorable, the restaurant features a nightly classic or Flamenco live guitarist and a wine menu certain to please even the most discerning palate.

What To Eat/Drink. Guests may order a la carte or the premier dinner. For those going all out, Prince Geja’s combination is highly recommended. For $55.95 per person, guests get aged beef tenderloin, lobster tail, jumbo Gulf shrimp, Atlantic sea scallops and boneless chicken breast. That package comes with assorted vegetables, eight gourmet dipping sauces and a flaming chocolate dessert fondue.

When To Go. The restaurant is open daily.

Steak frites are one of the favorites at Wollensky's Grill, located underneath Smith & Wollensky. (Photo: Smith & Wollensky)

Smith & Wollensky

Why We Love It. Classic and contemporary, there’s no shortage of steakhouses in Chicago. Smith & Wollensky—a New York import feting 40 years in 2017—is at the top of the crop, yet they’ve made strides to make dining here more affordable. With Wollensky’s Grill, its lower-level establishment, guests may order share-able plates, steak frites and craft beers. They may also tune into the big games on several monitors over the bar. 

What To Eat/Drink. There are five choices for steak frites, including herb-marinated skirt steak and black angus filet mignon. There are also St. Louis-style ribs, an Italian sausage sub and lobster corn dogs.

When To Go. After-work and pre-theater enthusiasts find their way here late afternoon/early evening.

See previous A's List columns right here.