While a high-priced, fine-dining establishment such as Lawry’s doesn’t quite jibe with Roadfood ideals, it is a piece of American dining history that beef eaters will love. To most people, the name Lawry’s means seasoned salt; but before that ubiquitous flavor agent, there was Lawry’s The Prime Rib Restaurant. The original Prime Rib was opened in 1938 in Beverly Hills by Lawrence L. Frank, who came up with his herb and spice mix as a way to flavor the beef he served in the restaurant. Now, there are Lawry’s prime rib palaces around the world; and if big slabs of tender, juice-dripping beef are your dish, these should be your destination.
I stopped in the Chicago Prime Rib, which was the first location opened after the West Coast original, and had a meat and potatoes (and salad and Yorkshire pudding) meal to remember. In addition to the exemplary food, I was smitten by the enthusiasm of the hostess, who sat me down and gushed, “We were the first restaurant ever to serve salad before dinner! We were the first to let women work in a fine-dining environment. We invented the doggie bag and valet parking.” Wow, what a set of accomplishments.
“Are you having prime rib?” the waitress asks every group of customers. In fact, the menu stretches beyond prime rib, but glancing around a dining room as English in spirit as Simpson’s in the Strand, I couldn’t see a single table that didn’t have at least one plate covered with beef. It is delicious, high-seasoned meat, scarcely requiring any of the seasoned salt that is set out on every table in its familiar supermarket canister.
There are a lot of little touches that make the Lawry’s experience something special, such as chilled forks for the salad, which is dressed tableside in a dramatic fashion by the waitress. And of course, the carving of the beef. That, too, is done tableside from a huge stainless steel trolley from which you can order yours any way from bloody red to crusty well-done.