Daily Herald
Once-private Forge Club defines what it means to 'dine'
By Deborah Pankey | Daily Herald Food Editor
Published: 10/5/2010 12:01 AM

Most of the time we head to a restaurant, we do so just to grab a meal. We might seek out a kid-friendly joint during the week when we don't have time to cook or sit down with a couple of girlfriends and kvetch over appetizers and cocktails.

Some of us eat out so often that we forget what it means to "dine."

Dining out means truly experiencing a meal settling in to upholstered (not plastic) chairs, selecting courses from a menu that's not posted above a counter and being attended to by someone not wearing bright suspenders.

When you're ready to dine out again, head over to The Forge Club in Vernon Hills.

The Forge Club has been around 40 years, but up until last year operated as a members-only supper club. According to manager Henry Markwood, when Forge Club opened on a then-quiet stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in 1970, most of the surrounding suburbs were "dry." Northshore businessmen and officers at the Naval bases needed a place to entertain, and a private club was a way to work around the liquor law.

The waning economy took its toll on expense account lunches and corporate dinner clients so The Forge Club opened its doors to the general public for the first time in September 2009.

Don't let the barn-sided building or the white-washed farm implements hanging from walls fool you into thinking this is a casual, kitschy place. Management has relaxed the dress code through the years (men no longer have to wear ties and women can wear pants) though longtime clientele still lean toward more formal attire. On the night I dined, a naval officer in dress blues and two young girls in their Sunday finest shared the dining room.

The wait staff treats members and new diners alike, letting them set the pace of the meal. We didn't catch on to this style of service right away and were at first annoyed at what we perceived as a lack of attention, especially when we were ready to order wine with our entrees. On the flip side, no one interrupted our conversation every few minutes asking how everything was.

Had they asked, they'd have learned that everything on our plates was fabulous.

This isn't the place that serves boutique wines, the trendiest fish or the latest preparation of cauliflower. But supper club favorites like shrimp cocktail, lobster bisque and steak are delicious and finely crafted.

An early bright spot from the appetizer menu was the shrimp with black bean cake and a kicky sauce. The seared portobello appetizer comes with a tangy sauce. The tasty shroom and a vegetarian homemade tortellini stuffed with spinach and ricotta are the only starters that didn't begin life in the water.

The vichyssoise, a special for the evening, was a pleasantly smooth and mild interpretation of this classic chilled soup. The previously mentioned bisque and iconic baked French onion soup are available nightly.

House salads come with the entrees, so we skipped the table-side prepared Caesar and the bacon-dressed spinach salad in favor of the smaller, yet quite ample, plate of greens.

That decision is one you might find yourself copying, for entrees and dessert still await.

The Forge Club prides itself on its table-side preparations of Dover sole in a browned butter and parsley sauce, rack of lamb and steak Diane.

I hadn't had steak Diane for years (decades, maybe) and was warmly reminded why I love this dish. It's not just about watching the brandied sauce throw off flames that warmed my companion's neck; it's about biting into the butter-textured tenderloin and scooping up seared mushrooms in the satiny sauce.

The filet, perfectly cooked and served with a rich Béarnaise sauce, was equally tender, and the roast duckling with its crisp skin and sweet cherry sauce hit all the right notes.

The sides were slightly unimpressive: All the plates were garnished with a sparse duo of twice-baked potato and broccoli (or another available green). A little more diversity would have been welcome.

The light vegetable serving, however, does leave more room for dessert. The lemon cake burst with citrus flavor and provided a nice counter balance to the rich entree sauces. Bananas foster and cherries jubilee, flamed tableside, make a pleasant postscript to a fine dining experience.

The Forge Club

634 S. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills, (847) 634-5590, forgeclub.com

Cuisine: Classic American supper club fare

Setting: Rustic hideaway

Entrees: $23.50 to $45

Hours: Dinner seatings 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday