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Nostalgia on the Menu: Chicago's St. Clair Supper Club Revives Midcentury Prime Rib Dining

Published December 26, 2023
7 months ago

Chicago's St. Clair Supper Club stands as a bastion of American dining nostalgia, wrapping guests in the warmth of yesteryears with every slice of prime rib served. Stepping inside the venue is like traveling back to a time when that cut of beef was more than sustenance – it was an emblem of prosperity and conviviality.

Restaurateur Grant Achatz, a renowned innovator in the culinary scene, curated the St. Clair Supper Club not just to serve succulent cuts of prime rib but to pay homage to a bygone era of accessible midcentury splendor. This dining establishment educates its patrons on an integral part of America’s culinary tradition, especially potent during the holiday season when according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, 70% of annual prime rib sales take place.

Christmas, a time of abundance and merriment, sees an uptick in these sales as families gather to partake in the ritual of sharing meals that evoke nostalgia and a sense of well-being. Despite price hikes in steaks and growing concerns over beef's environmental and health implications, the allure of prime rib during the festivities has seen an increase over the past two decades.

The ascent of prime rib as a symbol of America's golden age commenced post-World War II, amid the nation's newfound status as a global powerhouse. Amy Bentley, a food studies professor at NYU, and advertisements of that time enshrined this cut of beef as a testament to America's victorious and hopeful spirit.

Esteemed dining establishments like Lawry’s in Los Angeles and the Prime Rib in Baltimore rose to prominence, serving regal cuts such as the "Paul Bunyan's Cut" and exuding an aura of accessible luxury. Las Vegas casinos, much like today's St. Clair, leveraged prime rib as a draw for the aspirations of middle-class opulence, offering affordable prime rib meals well into the 1990s.

Yet, the prime rib's narrative isn't purely one of grandeur. The dish reflects America's shifting economic storyline, particularly in the 1970s when a steep rise in beef prices led to consumer protests, and a consequent decrease in per capita consumption of beef took place.

Today's diners, however, still feel a connection to the simplicity and tradition prime rib represents, just as evidenced by Chris Durkin and his dining companions' experiences at the St. Clair. The establishment isn't just serving a meal but recapturing the essence of a period where community, family, and pleasure were synonymous with the prime rib experience.

For those looking to recreate this culinary iconography at home, a prime rib recipe is shared—the steps to capture the essence of history on a plate, a tip of the hat to the permanence of shared traditions, and the comforting ebb of time through the language of food.

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