A restaurant where you cook your own steak: What could go wrong?
A lot, actually. You could overcook it or underseason it or simply not cook it as well as a professional chef, which is why most of us go to restaurants in the first place. You could burn yourself. You could give yourself food poisoning. All of these thoughts ran through my head as I entered The Butterscotch Den, a sort-of-new, sort-of-old restaurant in Oak Park where you do, indeed, cook your own steak, as well as your own hamburger, hot dog, vegetables and garlic bread on a roaring gas grill in the middle of the dining room.
But as it turned out, a lot could, and did, go right when I ate at The Butterscotch Den. Dining here is a weirdly fun and entertaining experience, even if it is a bit of a busman’s holiday for people like myself who make dinner at home most nights. Here, you’re completely in charge of your own meal and your own entertainment. Think of it as a cross between The Melting Pot and Benihana.
There’s something charmingly endearing about the place. The servers are friendly and helpful, and the diners enthusiastically throw themselves into the experience. The night I visited, a group of eight crowded around the grill, drinks in hand, appearing to be having a blast as they flipped their burgers with commercial- style spatulas. They acted like friends in someone’s backyard, not a restaurant.
Irish Hospitality Group took over the restaurant a few months ago from its previous owner. Back then, it was known as Arthur Henry’s Supper Club, and with its crowd-around-the-grill concept, it no doubt suffered even more than most restaurants during COVID’s social distancing era.
Walking in the front door, I briefly found myself wishing I had a miner’s headlamp. But my eyes quickly adjusted to the inky lighting in the bar, where you can order an ice-cold martini or a fun cocktail. When it comes to drinks, Irish Hospitality Group knows what it’s doing; it owns The Snug and Ro Sham Beaux, respectively one of the city’s top cocktail bars and one of its original natural wine bars.
My friend and I moved into the adjoining dining room, sat down in a roomy booth and ordered like we hadn’t eaten in a week: prawn cocktail (luckily already prepared by the kitchen, so we didn’t have to shell our own shrimp or whip up our own cocktail sauce), two steaks (a rib-eye and a feather blade, a cut I’d never heard of; it’s a small, flat steak from the shoulder), a vegetable skewer, a piping-hot baked potato in an aluminum foil jacket, and garlic bread. The steaks came to the table neatly wrapped in butcher paper and ready for us to season and throw on the grill.
The grill is equipped with long-handled barbecue tongs and spatulas, along with seasonings such as salt, pepper and house-made steak seasoning, and add-ons like chimichurri and A.1. Sauce. Years ago, a local chef showed me how to correctly season a steak: You want to coat every square millimeter of the meat with salt. Use a heavy hand.
My companion and I had a friendly little competition to see who could make the better steak. The fire was nice and hot at one end of the grill, and we were able to get a good sear on both pieces of meat while cooking them to a perfect medium rare in just a couple of minutes. Everything else we ordered from the vaguely retro menu was tasty, especially the baked potato, served with butter, sour cream and chives.
Prices here are exceedingly gentle for both food and alcohol. Cocktails hover around the $10 mark, and you can get a steak—in this case, top sirloin—for as little as $10.50. At $34, the 12-ounce rib-eye is the most expensive thing on the menu; by comparison, Morton’s 16-ounce rib-eye will set you back $68.
Just so you know, The Butterscotch Den is not The Palm or Charlie Palmer. It’s fun dining, not fine dining. But sometimes, fun is what you want. And as it turns out, cooking your own steak in a restaurant can be really fun.
The Butterscotch Den