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Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

Seventies Supper Club

South Woods’ timeless fare

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Situated east of Mitchell International Airport in an area of low-rise office buildings, South Woods restaurant occupies a very unlikely location. The patch of mature trees lining its driveway and the sign announcing the restaurant will take you by surprise. The place, founded in 1970, seems like a bit of a relic, bringing the feel of a vintage supper club.

The interior has a dining room and barroom of similar proportions. The few windows provide views of the trees, and several paintings provide flashes of color. While not overly fancy, there are a few upscale touches, such as table linens.

Steaks, chops, ribs and seafood rule the menu, though there are a few pastas as well. Appetizers never get more risqu than a shrimp cocktail or mozzarella marinara. A basket of fine Italian bread with a great crust and pieces of garlic toast is immediately whisked to the table, an advantage on busy days when service tends to slow down.

Lunch entrees come with soup or salad, while dinners include both. There is always French onion soup, which is a tad salty thanks to the piece of toast that tops it. Baked cheese is available for a small additional charge. Friday will invariably offer clam chowder. This has a creamy, New England-style broth, but instead of potato, carrot and celery, the sole vegetable is onion—a perfectly good substitute. The simple salads come with leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices and red onion. Dressings are predictable and for some reason are served in plastic containers.

Many customers come for the prime rib. Aside from some overpriced steakhouses, prime rib has vanished from all too many menus. Here it is treated with respect: tender, juicy and perfectly trimmed. Have it as an open-faced sandwich ($16.95) or as an entree ($22.95- $24.95). Some nights, when it’s featured as a special, it’s even more affordable than usual. The lunch menu offers a French dip sandwich with slices of prime rib ($9.95). Rarely does a French dip get as good as this.

The steaks are all Black Angus. A prime example is the petite Sicilian ($16.95), which comes with the usual bread-crumb coating and is pan-fried with olive oil. Though the crumbs lack seasoning, the beef is utterly tender and a great deal for the price. Order pasta or potato for a side, as this includes sauted onions, bell peppers and mushrooms. Veal alla Susan ($17.95) is another house specialty—it’s basically a breaded schnitzel flavored with lemon, chopped parsley and Asiago cheese. The cheese seems superfluous, but the veal is perfectly satisfying.

Friday naturally offers cod, walleye and lake perch. Order the lake perch pan-fried ($12.95). The good-sized fillets are served with just enough bread so as not to disturb their delicate flavor. Potato pancakes are also available.

Vegetarians are clearly at the wrong place and will have to satisfy themselves with salads and appetizers. Lunches are popular, and with good reason, as the entrees on this menu can be considerably cheaper: The veal is just $8.95! The wine list is a weak spot, with a small, mediocre selection at full markups. As for cocktails, the bar is geared more toward brandy old-fashioneds than designer martinis. But even if the decor seems a bit outdated and the menu is a blast from the past, the hearty no-nonsense food at South Woods remains as compelling as ever.

SOUTH WOODS 5404 S. Pennsylvania Ave. (414) 744-5430 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoking: At bar Handicap Access: Yes

South Woods | Photo by Don Rask