Let’s be real: Most people think steak is a dude thing. I recently spoke with Susan Frasca, the only woman who owns a steakhouse in Chicago. She’s owned it for 18 years, but people always ask her the same question: “Oh, does your husband own it with you?” The next question that follows? “‘Was it a family business?” Nope.
Still, people are surprised that Frasca owns not just any steakhouse, but Kinzie Chophouse, one of the top steakhouses in Chicago. She’s owned the restaurant (which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year) independently since she bought it when she was just 37, and it remains the only female-owned steakhouse in Chicago. She owns it all by herself, which shouldn’t be news-worthy, but the restaurant business is still very male-dominated. Frasca likes to do it herself.
Kinzie Chophouse is Frasca’s passion. She’s involved in every aspect of the business, from planning the entire menu, to watching it come to life in the back of the house. When she considered getting her master’s degree, she got distracted by wine. The agriculture, the art, and the science of wine. So, she immersed herself in the world of wine and became a sommelier. She has made her staff oenology experts with wine training every two weeks. The wine list is like a lexicon, with more than 150 bottles and 25 wines you can buy by the glass. Frasca handpicked every wine, and the award-winning list spans the globe, even including maps to educate diners about their wines.
I had a pinot noir…or three when I visited Kinzie Chophouse, but of course the main event is the steak. Here’s the thing. I’m vegan.
So I wondered what a vegan could possibly eat at Kinzie Chophouse. Frasca said, “We can make anything.” She wasn’t kidding. The chefs prepped a special menu of vegan dishes for me. I chose fresh vegetables grilled in a balsamic reduction, and it was more savory than any steak I could imagine.
I have to come clean, though: I’ve been a vegetarian since 2014, and I became vegan this year, but my dining experience at Kinzie Chophouse was the first time I ever had an illicit meat fantasy.
So, let’s get to the, ahem, meat of the matter. Carnivores can sink their teeth into exclusive cuts of steak that include a 14-oz Cowgirl Cut. It’s Frasca’s own variation on the traditional cowboy cut, but without excess marbling and fat to produce a leaner, more dense steak.
Frasca has put her feminine stamp on everything, and she acknowledges that it’s still tough for women in the restaurant business, especially as chefs and in the back of the house. But she’s a friend —and an inspiration —to all of her team. And she’s the consummate host —as one of the staff told me about a visit to Frasca’s home— down to every detail.
That’s where Frasca’s heart lies. She wants her guests to feel the fruits of her passion, down to the last detail. She’s got a long list of accolades to show for it, but what’s her biggest accomplishment?
“When someone leaves here and says that they had a great meal. It’s like accomplishing all over again. It still warms my heart.”
(Photos by Jim Frost)