Chicago Sun-Times

Turning Up A Full House Every Time at Club Lucky

If a full house just about every night of the week is good fortune, then Club Lucky is living up to its name. The owners Bobby Paladino and Jim Higgins, converted what had been a bar (Club Lucky) and adjacent community center into an eye-appealing, top-notch Italian restaurant. Although it is less than a year old, Club Lucky has the worldliness of a restaurant that has been around for many years.

If I had the time to hang out in an Italian restaurant, this is the kind of place I'd choose. The good feel of the place got me the first time I walked through the door.

The original bar, a Chicago bar and grill classic, runs the length of the room. It's a handsome piece of work that feels good under the elbows, and there's plenty of room to stretch out. Just past the far end of the bar, up a couple of steps and to the right, is the dining room with not a whole lot of frilla, but it does have a lot of flair.

The room has that 1950s steakhouse look. It's a restaurant that fits like a comfortable pair of shoes, with its tile floor, pressed tin ceiling, big, comfortable booths along g one wall that will set four people with ease; Formica-topped tables, and great-looking overhead lighting fixtures that look like they might fly away if the cord were cut. The only concession to anything even remotely alla moda is the large opening at one end of the room, through which the dance of the kitchen staff can be seen.

In tune with the style of the restaurant are the service people, who have their act together but don't act like they are doing you a favor by serving you food. One night, our server forgot to explain or bring by the antipesto selection (as was our being done around us), but at that point our appetizer decision had been made, anyway. Other than that, everything went along at the right pace, which means our food arrived neither before nor after its time.

The Italian Feel

There are no startling contrasts here; the food is as comfortable as the atmosphere, and the menu choices have that good "old Italian" feel with some newer Italian cooking ideas thrown in to please the upscale crowd that has been loving this place since it opened. I had a good time with the food at Club Lucky. Some dishes thrilled my mouth more than others, but as I reflect on all that was eaten, the experience was very positive and very likable.

Fried calamari, the menu points out, serves two. Yes, it did, and then some. The rings and tentacles were golden and crisp, tender and deliciously seasoned, and I couldn't stop eating them. The Club Lucky sauce served with the calamari was nice, but it would have been even better had it had more heat, as in spicy.

Baked littleneck clams, a dozen beauties, were great. The light, and herby bread crumb topping covering squeaky-fresh clams added just the right touch of flavor without upstaging the star of the show, the clams themselves.

The selection from the antipesto bar, a table side show-and-tail affair was interesting if not totally inviting mix of vegetables and other idea. The platter held such things as a Sicilian olive salad, sautéed carrots with mint, grilled eggplant, bruschetta, carmelized cipolline (small white onions), green beans with thyme and, I thought I heard the waiter say, baked mozzarella. The presentation was flawed, with everything crammed together on a platter that was too small to show the offerings in their best light, and the mix same off as dull and drab - no color, no flash to excite my appetite. At $7.95 per person, it needs to show better if it is to be appreciated.

Passing on the antipesto platter led me to an excellent pasta e fagioli. This was a pasta and bean soup with all the right stuff. Beans, carrots, celery and tubettini pasta lay thick in a light and savory tomato broth. A sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese from the bowl on the table added the final touch to what was a delicious bowl of soup.

The Club Lucky salad is an antipesto salad of sorts that serves two with ease and is highly recommended (the price - $7.50 - is right, too). Crisp romaine lettuce, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, chunks of Fontina cheese and salami, black olives and pepperonicini were lightly anointed with an oil and vinegar dressing. The salad begged to be finished by two of us but wasn't.

Lotsa Pasta

Pasta dishes ate well (and never was the Pasta anything less but al dente). Two in particular were standouts, and there was little question that the pasta was made in the in the kitchen. Eight-finger cavatelli in a marinara sauce Another dish billed as pasta squares on the menu was exactly that. Large, homemade pasta squares made. I believe, with semolina flour lay la thick and plenty in the same delicious marinara sauce used for cavatelli. Linguine and broccoli aglio e olio, despite being completely misspelled on the menu ("alio oilo" was how the menu had it), was completely terrific. The simple combination of pasta and broccoli with garlic and olive oil is one of my favorite pasta dishes, not only because I love the flavors, but also because it takes a really bad cook to "lose this dish to the stove". Club Lucky's version of this wonderful creation belongs on my all-time favorites list, as it had just the right garlic intensity, which is what this dish is all about.

And then there was the lasagna, and it was a firm, lovely and many-layered loaf of delicious eating. The top, a golden blanket of melted cheese, the layers a luscious combination of ricotta cheese and spinach, the pasta a thin and deli cate veneer to hold it all together, the sauce light and fragrant...I guess you could say that I liked it.

Though pasta dishes play a dominant role in the total makeup of the menu, there was some very good eating on the meat and fowl side, too. Some recommendations: the boneless pork chop, a luscious melange of grilled pork (actually, there were three good-sized pieces of pork) topped with sautéed onions and mushrooms and pepperoncini in a light garlic and wine sauce.

Broiled chicken oreganato (whole or half) rang true with the flavor of lemon. butter and herbs. A juicy fowl with flavor clear to the bone and the chunky potatoes were just What the chicken ordered.


It seems that everyone has a good tiramisu these days, but this one was way above average. The Mascarpone cheese espresso flavor and ladyfingers provided a good balance of flavors. And because the coffee had been use judiciously with the ladyfingers, the tiramisu had not turned to mush, and I liked that a lot.

The cannoli shell passed my fork test (the shell cracked when I hit it with the tines of the fork), indicating that it wasn't filled ahead of time, and the ricotta cheese filing was creamy and perfect. After these two, the dessert choices fall off into spumoni, cheesecake and cookies. Club Lucky has an excellent selection of fairly priced wines by the glass. The best value is the house red. Mondavi California Chianti. Buona fortuna, Club Lucky.