Delicious steaks, impeccable service make Johnny’s a stand-out restaurant

Kevin and Karen Urick are touring the Quad-Cities one meal at a time for the column Dinner for Two. The Geneseo couple love everything about food. They grow food, travel the world for food, enjoy eating all styles of food and look forward to sharing their passion with readers! The column will appear periodically in the Your Food section. If you know of a place you want them to review, email them at [email protected].

— Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, 1300 River Drive, Moline. 309-736-0100,

A great steak is the measure of a true Midwest meal. With a 15-year reputation of serving quality food night after night, Johnny’s is a Quad-Cities tradition.

Entering the restaurant, you know you are there to dine, not just eat out. The atmosphere speaks elegance and beckons you to slow down and enjoy yourself.

Johnny’s is a regional restaurant with local roots. The operation support center for Heart of America, the parent company for Johnny’s, is located a block away, and the founder, Mike Whalen, lunches at Johnny’s several times a week.

Mr. Whalen, the brains behind Johnny’s, started in the restaurant business 38 years ago with the Iowa Machine Shed.

Growing up in Davenport, the son of a lawyer, he graduated from law school and envisioned himself in New York City, practicing law or working in investment banking. He soon realized a desk job was not for him, and he rented the building that had housed a defunct restaurant from his landlord dad, acquired a couple of business partners, and opened up his first restaurant, the Iowa Machine Shed.

His portfolio now includes many award-winning restaurants and hotels. The Heart of America brands include Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, the Iowa Machine Shed, Thunder Bay Grille, the J Bar, the Wildwood Lodge and Hotel Renovo.

Having eaten and stayed in most of these, we know firsthand that Mike brings the hospitality of a small-time restaurateur to all of his business ventures. The restaurants and hotels are not chains; he sees them as children.

Joining Mike at his lunch table most days is the managing partner of Johnny’s, acclaimed chef Jack Viviani. Jack is a gem, and many of the waitstaff have been with him from the beginning, signaling good management that translates over to good food.

Johnny’s namesake is Johnny’s Vets Club in Des Moines. The old-time supper club was forced to close after the 1993 flood, and Mike asked for the privilege of carrying on the name and tradition with a new restaurant in mind.

The signature dish at Johnny’s Vets Club was steak de burgo. After a bit of research, the original recipe was located and is now replicated in splendid form.

Steak and chops in their many forms are the most popular items on the menu at Johnny’s. The seafood and chicken section also is mouthwatering, ranging from colossal shrimp scampi and planked salmon to crab-stuffed shrimp and snapper. The Italian chicken favorites of madeira, parmigiano and piccata also are featured. Pasta dishes from meat to meatless fill out the Italian part of the menu.

The Johnny’s Chanel No. 5 with lobster, shrimp, artichokes, prosciutto, and cheese ravioli in a garlic cream sauce for $22 is next on our list to try. On this visit, we were hungry for steak, and chef Marc Pilichowski was there to deliver.

We started with one of our favorites, toasted ravioli, one of the many appetizer choices. We were greeted with homemade cheese ravioli, fried to perfection and served with a marinara dipping sauce. Delicious. Paired with a nice Chianti, this appetizer could have served as a meal, but the steak still beckoned.

The steak de burgo was a must. Tenderloin medallions are served in a roasted garlic cream sauce, just as they were at the Des Moines restaurant.

Waitress Kathy Tygart suggested we have an extra portion of sauce to go with our other steak, and who were we to argue? Choosing a second steak was a much harder option. One of their best-sellers is the filet medallion trio, three filets topped with horseradish, Gorgonzola and Parmesan crusts. Opting for a filet as our first choice, we wanted a New York strip, and Kathy suggested we order it with the Parmesan crust. Good choice.

Both of the steaks were ordered medium rare and were perfectly cooked. They were served with a house salad, warm foccacia bread with olive oil for dipping and a choice of potato. It was a meal made for fine dining.

The service was perfectly timed, not rushed, and the high-backed booths and separated tables offered a feeling of privacy. Too full for dessert, but unable to resist the array of homemade creations, we took home a slice of lemoncello raspberry torte to eat in the comfort by the fire at Urick Farm.

While Johnny’s is a great place for dinner, it is also a relaxing place for lunch — offering a solid selection of signature salads and sandwiches — or cocktails. The bar is a perfect place to unwind or relax with friends. Where wines used to rule, martinis are now king. Johnny’s has a great-looking martini menu and a full list of spirits and scotches.

Most of the steaks are priced in the mid to upper $20 range. Since all meals include a salad and a side, the price is reasonable for a complete dining experience.

Jack encourages everyone to make a reservation, regardless of the day of the week or the number in your party. On the weeknight we were there, they had 260 reservations. Johnny’s will cater gatherings of 10 to 1,000 people, and an on-site party room is available. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

— He said: Johnny’s provides a relaxed dining atmosphere from the moment you step in the door. You feel cared for and not rushed. Quality food and service make this a special place. There are plenty of choices to keep you coming back for more.

— She said: Having grown up in the Des Moines area, often eating at Johnny’s Vets Club, I always enjoy the trip down memory lane and the steak de burgo. The service is impeccable, and you can tell there is an owner, partner and chef who enjoy providing an experience, not just a meal.

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