Eddie Merlot’s New Menu Scores Big

Ask a restaurateur or chef how they go about changing their menus and you’ll get a wide variety of answers depending upon the type of establishment they run. Whether the challenge is a full menu revamp, or a seasonal change, striking a harmonious menu balance between creativity, cost management and consumer demand is never an easy task.

Wagyu1IMG_0895EWhen Eddie Merlot’s revamped their entire fall/winter dinner menu, (50 changes were made), EM owner, Bill Humphries, further challenged his staff with a very specific task: find a new steak that has the WOW factor! “We went to numerous ranches and top purveyors to find it,” described Tony Dee, Eddie Merlot’s Corporate Executive Chef.

What they found was a 20 oz. Wagyu Bone-In New York Strip that has never been offered in the U.S. from Greg Norman Australian Prime. Per their request, Norman’s company fabricated a “Signature Wagyu” with a marble score of 6.

Considering that most prime grade cuts have a marble score of 3, Merlot’s new Strip promised everything ‘wow’ and more. What makes the cut so different according to Dee, is “the texture and the taste. It has a buttery taste to it and the marbling is fantastic!”

Wagyu2IMG_0899EThe response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive from EM staff and customers. Are they worried that someone will try to copy them now? Dee mused he doesn’t know how you’d ever be able to copyright a menu, “there’s nothing we can do about it if someone copies us now – but that would be the best compliment.”

In addition to the new Strip, Merlot’s upgraded their 32 oz Signature Wagyu Tomahawk Ribeye, and added a 20 oz Bone-In Bison Ribeye and 7 oz Bison Filet Mignon to the mix. Wagyu sliders, burgers and even a ½ pound Wagyu hot dog are on their new Lounge Menu now too.

On the subject of changing menus, Dee says it’s important to do it for seasonal change and variety. You have to keep the freshest of ingredients on the menu when they’re in season to be satiable and fiscally smart. “We try to be smart as much as possible,” offers Dee, “but we’re also not afraid to go out and find great product. We want to provide the very best we can – that’s one of the reasons this company is so great.”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website   LinkedIn   @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 8.15.13

EddieMerlotGardenGarden Outreach

Reading about the union between Eddie Merlot’s in Burr Ridge and the Helping Hand Center, a local non-profit organization serving children and adults with disabilities, is the kind of story that can’t help but bring a smile to your face.

Earlier this year Merlot’s began working with Helping Hand to provide vocational opportunity for their members inside the restaurant. Last Spring, General Manager, Mike Rufo and Chef Dan Tucker took the program outside when they decided to start an herb and produce garden for the restaurant and enlisted Helping Hand workers to participate in the process.

The project has proved a win-win for both sides. Chef Tucker says his hardworking Helping Hand team takes great pride in the garden now and the fact that Merlot’s gets to feel good along the way is “just a cherry on top”.

LanghamLobbyTravelle Opens at the Langham

Named one of the year’s best “up and coming”, the Langham Chicago made its Windy City debut last month. Located in the landmark building by Mie van der Rohe on North Wabash, the luxury hotel seamlessly blends modern amenities with historical elegance.

Floor to ceiling windows throughout, (including all guest rooms), 55” TVs, and Himalayan salt saunas are just some of the things you can expect to experience at the Langham. Locals and hotel guests can also enjoy the brand’s signature afternoon tea service inspired by its grand hotel namesake. The birthplace of afternoon tea service is attributed to the five star Langham London, which the Prince of Wales opened in 1865.

TravelleMainDiningRmLast Friday, Langham’s much anticipated premiere restaurant, bar and lounge, Travelle, opened with Executive Chef, Tim Graham, at the helm. Travelle is positioned as a Mediterranean-inspired cuisine which will draw influence from numerous countries across the region. TravelleSeacuterie

In an early review by TOC, special mention was made about Chef Graham’s creation of “seacuterie”. Likened to (meat) charcuterie, Graham describes their seafood version as a “terrine made of smoked salmon and herb butter”.

Travelle is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner till midnight and until 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. You can take advantage of Open Table access via their Facebook page for reservations.

Miracle Weekend for Kids

Marriott’s (19th annual) Miracle Weekend starts tomorrow at the Lincolnshire Marriott. The Miracle Weekend is a charitable event dedicated to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (formerly Children’s Memorial). To date, Marriott has raised over $1 million dollars for the hospital which depends upon philanthropy to help children and their famMarriottMiracleilies.

Marriott Rewards members can also donate their points through the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals to help families of sick and injured children stay at a Marriott hotel nearest to where their children are being treated. Check donations, are equally welcomed!

Buedel Fine Meats is extremely proud to lend support to the Miracle Weekend golf tournament which kicks off the event.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Eddie Merlot’s Top Chef, Tony Dee

Known for their fresh take on steakhouse ambiance, upscale menu, wine selection and five star service, Eddie Merlot’s has taken the Midwest by storm with locations in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and most recently, Illinois, in Burr Ridge, Warrenville and Lincolnshire. 

2013 promises to be another stellar year for the mini chain with new openings scheduled in Bloomfield, Michigan, Pittsburgh and Denver. At the core of it all, is the company’s Executive Chef, Tony Dee.

This is a lifestyle, not a job

Executive Chef, Tony Dee says food was a big thing in his family, so much so, in fact, that he and his grandparents would, “plan vacations around where they wanted to eat” when he was a kid. When he “had to get a job” to support his high school sports activities, he went to work as a dishwasher at the local sports bar & grill. Dee’s first culinary caper occurred one Friday night when the owner of the restaurant asked him to fill in at the last minute for the cook who took ill suddenly.

Did he know what he was doing?

“That’s what the owner asked me,” smiled Dee. “I hadn’t been officially trained, but I’d cooked for my buddies and watched the cooks at the bar long enough to know what I was supposed to do. We managed to save the shift that night and from that moment on I began ‘filling in’ more and more. Three months later, I took a job as a cook at the local country club.”

Executive Chef, Tony Dee

When Tony graduated high school several years later, he was hooked, turning down football scholarships and opting instead for culinary school. He chose Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. One of the first culinary schools to offer business management curriculum for the restaurant/hospitality industry, Dee saw the JWU program as a career growth must have. He continued to work as a cook throughout his college years and returned home after graduation as a highly experienced emerging chef.

Zigzagging north to south and north again, Tony worked for name restaurant groups, such as Cameron and Barton G, “This is a lifestyle, not a job,” declared Dee, “lots of travel and sacrifice.” He further honed his management skills when he accepted an offer to work for a private hospitality firm in the British Virgin Islands in the role of Food & Beverage Director managing four restaurants. “I’m glad I did that because it gave me a renewed appreciation for the U.S.”, says Dee referring to the rampant lack of food safety and sanitation there.

Crediting much of his career growth to being, “fortunate to have met many great people”, Dee shared it was another chance event which led him to his current position.  “I was at a charity event and went to the bar to get a drink. It was right after I had come back to the U.S., and I didn’t know most of the people that were there. I struck up a conversation with a guy at the bar; we immediately hit it off and spent a good time chatting. At one point, I told him I’d just moved back and was looking for my next opportunity. He said to me, ‘ I know, your resume is on my desk’ – it was Bruce Kraus, Director of Operations for Eddie Merlot’s. Shortly after, I was offered the Executive Chef position in Indianapolis. Last fall I moved to the Chicago area as the Executive Chef responsible for all locations.”

Taking Care of Business

Tony Dee Interview

Tony with Buedel Managing Partner, John Cecala. Interview pictures by Jorge Took Your Picture.com.

How do Executive Chefs spend their time? Managing an ever-growing multi state operation of any kind takes organization and discipline – both inherent to Dee. He says he, “tries to do breakfast – coffee, juice, yogurt – check emails and get to his first location by 8 each morning…the phones usually start by then.” Vendor calls, catching up with Bruce, handling personnel issues and production needs fill the majority of the morning until he leaves to check in at another location. Always keeping menu and management in check, he tries to talk to “at least two” chefs every day.

What is the hardest challenge for any upscale restaurant?

“Sourcing! Getting the product you want affordably. Portion sizes are shrinking now because prices cannot continue to rise – 85% of restaurants fail in the first 11 months.”

What do you think makes a restaurant with great food even greater?

“Quality service. When I was in my 20’s I was going to catch the mistake you made, but you have to know how to deal with people – one bad meal delivery doesn’t make a bad restaurant. Knowing how to handle mistakes when they happen is crucial. We make sure our chefs are trained properly so they can train cooks better, who can train other staff better, and so on. Training…for us, it really starts with whom you hire – not just for their experience, but for their personality too.”

What do you see as a change in customer trend?

“People go out to eat today; they don’t dine; they don’t enjoy anymore. The experience has changed. No one gets dressed up to go out anymore … but the ‘good china’ shouldn’t just come out for the holidays. I don’t want people to stop – lose their passion for the food they eat – I want them to have a great meal with family and friends …it’s about the experience.”

Asked if he’d ever be interested in doing a cooking show, Dee quickly replies, “8 million people will see you make mistakes”. He is thankful for the role TV has played in nurturing public interest for the culinary arts and attributes much of the “foodie revolution” to “culinary ed-u-tainment”.

Closest to his heart is teaching. Dee would love to pay it forward and help kids go to culinary school.


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Meat Picks | 11.30.12

Thank You !

One of the best things about the holiday season is how the spirit of giving illuminates within us. Such was the case when the Amercian Culinary Federation (ACF) brought a crew of helping hands to the 52nd Annual Thanksgiving Feast at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Each year La Rabida’s rehab gym is elegantly decorated for the event by a faithful group of church volunteers. ACF Chefs and industry members brought turkeys and all the trimmings to cook and serve the feast. Over 100 patients and their families were treated to Thanksgiving dinner last week.

La Rabida has been serving Chicago families since 1896, providing care to children with lifelong medical conditions regardless of their family’s ability to pay. The Hospital serves 9,000 children annually who require primary and specialty care to address complex and challenging medical conditions. Read about the children and how you can help here.

Holiday Tips from Tony Dee

We asked Executive Corporate Chef, Tony Dee, from Eddie Merlot’s, for some quick holiday entertaining tips. To our surprise, his biggest message was, “keep it simple”.

Stick to finger foods. No cakes, but cookies, brownies and bars. People should be able to “snack and graze easily with a drink in one hand and a cookie in another. Stick to finger foods and make what you know during the Holidays – it’s not the time to try out exotic flavors or challenging dishes. There’s nothing wrong with making the basics, short ribs, ham. I do exactly that, I’ll make a nice ham with a beautiful glaze.”

Does he have a secret for perfect mashed potatoes?

Tony says, “He’s bad”, because when he makes mashed potatoes he sticks with a 2:1 ratio: 2 parts potatoes to 1 part (unsalted) butter, “…it’s like velvet”. Adding only salt and white pepper, he uses his Kitchen Aid and emphasizes the potatoes need to be whipped immediately after draining but for no longer than it takes to blend in the butter and spices.

Top 100 + 1

Time Out Chicago’s 100 Best Things We Ate and Drank in 2012 list just came out.

In the entrée category, Embeya’s “big dinosaur ribs” are described as something that hits, “every gustatory pleasure point via a crisp top layer of fat, sumptuous pork and a sticky, sweet and spicy tamarind-garlic glaze”. The mouthwatering Fat Beef Burger, “topped with onion jam and chorizo shoved between two halves of a juice-soaking pretzel bun”, at Bread & Wine, is just one of the burgers that made the cut.

The last entry on this ever extensive fast food to foo-foo dish list is the 101st reader picked favorite: Chicken and Waffles at Longman & Eagle. Who doesn’t like the magic of salt and sweet?

Happy Holidays!


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter  @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Meat Picks | 9.27.12

Ambience Award

Mon Ami Gabi, Shaw’s Crab House LEYE restaurants, Macy’s Walnut Room and The Pump Room are just some of the restaurants that made the Chicago Eater list of “Chicago’s Most Iconic Dining Rooms” this week. Shots of all the (gorgeous) dining rooms here.

Pork Report

Early this week the Trib posted an article about a pork and bacon shortage which seems to be happening  in Europe. Fortunately, reports for the U.S. pork market were just the opposite.

Pork production soared in August as more animals were brought to market totaling 2 billion pounds, up 6 percent from the previous year. Hog slaughter totaled 9.94 million head, up 4 percent from August 2011. The average live weight was up 3 pounds from the previous year, at 269 pounds.

There is no doubt however, the impact of our drought will be felt by the commodity pork industry which will face higher costs for feed that will be passed on to the consumer at some point.

Responsible producers like Niman Ranch, who practice sustainable farming, tend to ride their own market albeit at prices typically higher than the commodity pork market.  We may in fact see supply and prices from these types of “boutique” producers remain steady.

New Merlot in Town

A third Chicago area Eddie Merlot’s (the first in Burr Ridge and second in Warrenville) is tentatively set to open next week in Lincolnshire.  For those unfamiliar with this restaurant group, they aim for the “WOW factor” – delivering one-of-a-kind service.

Last July Eddie Merlot’s took a booth at the Taste of Lincolnshire and received close to 1,000 new email subscribers as a result, according to the local press. How many restaurants enjoy that kind of pre-opening interest months in advance?

The Lincolnshire location is set to open at 4 p.m. daily in the lounge; dining room hours begin at 5. Special holiday season lunch hours are currently being planned. For more info, check out Merlot’s blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts.


Both routes (Knife and Fork) of the Wicker Park Bucktown Dinner Crawl are sold out! There is a waiting list you can try your luck with by emailing your name, phone number and route choice to: Info@WickerParkBucktown.com



From the desk of John Cecala   Twitter @BuedelFineMeats   Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Meat Up Labor Day Picks

Farm to Fork

Eddie Merlot’s is running a specially priced “Farm-to-Fork” menu now through the end of the September.

The pre-set menu offers six entrées to choose from: Pecan-crusted whitefish with sautéed sugar snap peas, Barbecue spiced Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with sweet corn, duck confit ravioli and sweet potato “gravy”, Kentucky-fried chicken breasts stuffed with artisan ham and cheese, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and green beans, Cider-glazed smoked pork chop, sweet corn and edamame succotash and Habanero-glazed beef short ribs, roasted root vegetables and potatoes

Guests can choose one entrée with either a starter (soup or salad) or dessert for $32 – or have a starter  and dessert for just $38. Great price for phenomenal food and atmosphere!

More info here: http://www.eddiemerlots.com/Farm-to-Fork-426.html

Yet another word on tomatoes…

Last week we wrote about Spain’s famous tomato throwing festival, La Tomatina. Since then we found out there’s a company that puts on a like event in our own back yard (literally) in Bridgeview at Toyota Park.

The “Tomato Battle” is currently held in eight cities nationwide, including Chicago this weekend on Saturday, September 1st. Registration beings at noon and the battle begins at 4. Live music, libations and a costume contest are all part of the fun.

Buy tickets at: http://tomatobattle.com/Chicago

Summer Send Offs

The bad thing about Labor Day weekend is it marks the end of summer. The good thing is there are some very cool things to do over the holiday.

The 34th Annual Jazz Festival kicks off today in Grant Park! The last of the season Tastes (for Serbia, Polonia and Melrose Park) start tomorrow and Saturday. Check here for a complete list of festivals.

For more things to do, check out the over 300 listings at this Time Out Chicago  link and suburban listings at the Daily Herald.

Have a great weekend!


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