The world has changed in the 20 years since Phil Stefani has opened a suburban restaurant. Sine then, Chicago’s restaurant industry has grown to earn universal acclaim and Stefani — one of Chicago’s best-known restaurateurs — is now working together with his children, Gina and Anthony Stefani. Together, along with the glue that keeps them together — Phil’s wife Karen Stefani — they’ll open Stefani Prime next week on Thursday, March 29 at 6755 N. Cicero Avenue in Lincolnwood, off the Edens Expressway.
“Prime” isn’t just a reference to the grade of beef they’ll serve. It’s a misnomer to call the restaurant a pure steakhouse as they’ll feature steaks, classic Italian dishes, and seafood. The goal is to give suburban dwellers a city-caliber prime experience without commuting downtown. It’s about top-notch service and giving regulars respect, the family said. The Stefanis vow to be working on premises to recognize their customers.
“This is the perfect location for people who live in the city, whose parents live in the North Shore,” Anthony Stefani said. “This is the perfect meeting spot for Sunday dinner.”
Stefani last opened a suburban restaurant in 1998 in Wheeling with Tuscany. The menu includes items familiar for those who dined at Stefanis, the Lincoln Park Italian restaurant that opened in 1980 but with a more modern presentation. Items at Stefani Prime include fettuccine al forno (mixed in a parmesan wheel), chicken Vesuvio, and a 37-ounce tomahawk beef ribeye. Executive chef Nolan Narut (David’s Burke’s Primehouse) will feature something for everything. They’ll have seafood towers, lamb chops, and more.
Unlike Bar Cargo in River North and MAD Social in West Loop — which are aimed at a more youthful demographic — Stefani Prime will aim to serve all ages. The main dining space seats 90, and there’s a dine-in bar with room for 80 seats. The larger bar area reflects a change in diners, said Phil Stefani. The venerable restauranteur said he’s noticing more customers who want to eat in the bar area and not spend as much time in the restaurant. That’s why they made the bar area more comfortable. There’s also a main private room with room for 50 and another with private space for 30. When the patio opens later this spring, they’ll have room for 60 outside. This will jell well with Karen Stefani’s Inspired Catering & Events company.
Anthony Stefani left his job in hockey with the Blackhawks to join the family business and open Bar Cargo in River North. His sister beat him to the punch when Gina Stefani opened MAD Social in the West Loop. MAD Social’s brunch service has been successful with creative takes on chicken and waffles and more. Gina Stefani hopes she can bring the same sort of success to the suburbs when brunch eventually debuts in Lincolnwood.
“I never thought my brother and I would be moving back into our parents house in our 30s,” Gina Stefani joked.
It’s a different vibe in the suburbs. Stefani Prime will offer mandatory valet — the parking lot is tight and the Stefanis want to maximize their space. Phil and Karen Stefani moved into their Lincolnwood home in 1985, about three blocks away from the Stefani Prime site. The children have memories including ordering Chinese food from Kow Kow, the 65-year-old restaurant that stood at the future Stefani Prime spot until it closed in 2015. When the family took over the Kow Kow space, the Stefanis didn’t have a specific restaurant idea in mind. Neighbors provided Phil Stefani with input.
“If anything there’s a lot of pressure on us,” Stefani said. “Like I said, when it’s on your home turf, you really have to deliver.”