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May 5, 2010
Uptown's 25th Anniversary
Chapter One, The Pink Period
by Ray

25 years!  What a long strange trip it has been.  This coming June 3rd we will celebrate our 25th anniversary. I was really torn what to do, if anything, having never felt comfortable blowing the Uptown horn. I thought about having a 25th anniversary bash and asked my wife Rita to sing for me but she nixed that idea, good thing! We settled on having a week long happy hour to invite all of our friends, customers and ever faithful employees, both past and present to spend some time catching up and reminiscing. We will follow up with more details on that as the time gets closer.

With the advent of our newsletter we also thought it would be nice to chronicle some of our history, share some pictures and tell some of the abundant stories that can come out of 25 years of serving the public. So for the next few weeks we will share this and divide them up  between the early, middle and present years.

The Early Years (The Pink Period)

Back in early 1985 after working my whole life at my family's restaurant "The Red Door Inn" I was feeling a desire to venture out on my own. I had felt a need in the area for a "casual restaurant". TGI Fridays and Houlihans were changing the restaurant industry. Our area did not have anything similar with our market consisting only of fast food and fine dining. This also seemed to work because I did not want to compete with The Red Door. The menu would be big on lighter items, sandwiches, soups, and desserts. It is hard to imagine how back then food choices were so limited. Before the days of the Food Channel and Iron Chefs, salsa was an unknown condiment and people pronounced fajita using the the "J". We wanted daylight and fore-ground music to contribute to the casual feel both of which were unheard of at the time.

city furniture buildingI had an opportunity at a newly opening mini mall in LaSalle, in the old JC Penny building, which at the time housed City Furniture.  With the help of family and a local bank we were able to scrape up enough capital to start planning. It was a scary proposition with me being only 25 years old and having 3 children, 2 of them under 2 years old. Rita and her sister Irene helped with the design and I was left to the operational aspects of it. The space was a 1300 square foot store front, in which I was able to cram 18 tables, 60 seats, a bar and some semblance of a kitchen. As the place was being laid out the designers started to get back to me. I was pretty opposed with what they came up with, PINK!

Ryan during original construction.
ryan during construction
I had the help of a good friend, Jerry Nosalik, a local carpenter. Together with him and some of my newly hired "gorillas" we pieced it together. Time was of the essence,  having a very tight budget and not much room for error or dawdling. We started construction on April 1st the day, our lease started, and opened June 3rd 1985.

The "Elvis Bar"
pink bar
Beyond the pinks, several other things were coming into focus. In an antique magazine I found a white marble ice cream back bar in Memphis (supposedly Elvis frequented this place) that would fit perfect. We used several levels to break up the place. We installed several glass block dividers, hanging pendants for lights and got the kitchen equipment into place.

The "Burger Bar"
burger bar
Since our burgers were a big part of our original repertoire we added a high end condiment cart so you could decorate your burger the way you liked it. We served our Coca Cola in the returnable glass 12 ounce bottles.  That lasted about a week.

The south dining room(upstairs)
old uptown sdr color
Opening was a night mare. Our first lunch we had a waiting list until 3pm we served over 200 people. We were out of food and out of breath. The very first day on a trip to the walk-in cooler, which was in the back of the building, some one locked me in. I was there for over an hour until someone missed me. Good thing there was nothing sharp in there. The next few days would get even busier. After about 5 days of this we decided to just do lunches until we could get our act together.

Grandpa Barto with his "custom paper"
late night with grandpa
Ask anyone that has ever opened a restaurant. In order to get over the hump the only option is to work through it until you gradually find the people you can trust. I have been known to exaggerate but the first 2 months were a 6am to midnight proposition and we were open every day so it was 7 days a week. We did all the laundry at home and were raising 3 small children. One looks back and you wonder how you did it, also knowing at the same time you could never do it again.

holiday add

Staffing in the beginning was very difficult. I think many of the food service professionals in the area did not want to jump in with both feet until they had a feel for if we were going to make it. Slowly and surely I added some of the people that made us what we are.

Chris Biagi, Lynn Parnisari, Susie Tondi
biagi, parnisari, tondi
Some of my key people that jumped on board were Susie Tondi, Chris Biagi, Chrissie Mattioda, Greg Hybki.

ruehallThen in January I hired what is still my most valued employee, Kris Hall (Rue). The first year came and went. We became more financially stable. I felt we were improving our food and service everyday. As the next few years went on we gained space wherever we could. We added on to our kitchen when a store behind us went out of business. I was able to move my office from home to the old JC Penny elevator. ( Yes, my office was actually in the elevator) In general we had started to become a real business. We were going to make it. Our menu was ever increasing in size and our dinner business started to surpass our luncheon business.

The Proposal table #11 was under the mirror in the small alcove.

south dining room sunny
One night, while I was working, Donald O'Connor came in looking for the old Kelly & Cawley's where he used to perform. Every single day with out fail we would have the "coffee guys" ( a group of downtown business owners) come in at 3PM sharp.  The Chicago Bears Superbowl ring was designed at table 19. We had at least a two dozen couples get engaged at table 11. Why table 11 we don't know. Our current chef, Chris Plankenhorn who was in the process of moving from dishwasher to cook, fell into (yes into) the deep fryer. Friday nights we would do a 2 for 1 happy hour from 11 to midnight.

old uptown outsideAfter a point things were starting to run like a well oiled machine. I had the staff that could run things on their own. The Uptown had gotten as big as it physically  could. I was looking for another project. In 1988  I bid on becoming the concessionaire at the Starved Rock Lodge. I came very close to getting it. With all of the  investment that the state had put into Starved Rock I felt like the best thing I could do was find something that would capitalize on the areas tourism potential. I was looking for another project.

To be continued next week....

Saturday Nights
Leg of Lamb
by Ryan
               leg of lamb

For years Prime Rib has been a Saturday night staple on our menu. While, the Prime Rib will continue to be available on Saturday nights, we wanted to take the time to introduce you to a new Saturday night menu item. Roasted Leg of Lamb.  Lamb is the food of "foodies." If you have never tried lamb before, it is quite possible that once you do, it could end up becoming your meat of choice.

For the last couple of weeks we have prepared this Leg of Lamb and we plan on continuing to offer this menu item every Saturday night, for at least the foreseable future. (available after 4pm) The lamb is crusted with fresh herbs and seasonings, roasted in our 1970's alto sham and cooked to perfection.

From the Wine Cellar
Wine List Additions
By Jimmy

wine tasting 2

 This past Saturday we held another one of our wine tastings to choose our summer season wines. You can never have too much wine right.  Again we sampled some amazing wines.

Listed below are the "new" wines on our list. Some of which have scored high ratings in Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast. We feel these are all great wines for you to try next time you are in. Remember, if there is any portion of the bottle left, we have "wine doggie bags" to take the unfinished portion home.


Hendry Unoaked Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 08 - Hendry is a prominent winery located in Napa Valley. This unoaked chardonnay tastes very similar to a sauvignon blanc.  When tasting next to a true chardonnay, there is a world of difference. $45

Hendry Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 05- Napa Valley produces very good cabernets. This was an excellent year for this Napa Valley Cabernet. We bought the last case available from this vintage. $41

Neyers Chardonnay, Carneros, 08- This is what a great chardonnay should taste like. Full oak flavor. This wine received 91 points in Wine Spectator. $59

Pulenta Sauvignon Blanc, Mendoza, Argentina, 08 - Pronounced just like the Italian food "poo- lenta". Although Marlborough is known for its sauvignon blancs, this one from Argentina is very good. This is a Paul Hobbs import, a renowned name in the wine industry. $34

Scarpetta Pinot Grigio, Italy, 08- This is a crisp and dry Italian pinot grigio. $47

Masciarelli Trebbiano, Italy, 08 - Pronounced "mash- ah-rel-lee" "treb-ee-ano". This is a light, crisp, citrus Italian wine that tastes very similar to a pinot grigio. $25

Colterenzio Lumo, Italy, 08- Pronounced "col-te-renzio" "luu-moe". This varietal is made 50% pinot bianco, 35% chardonnay and 20% sauvignon blanc. It is a light Italian wine that has a sauvignon blanc nose with a chardonnay palate. $28

Torre Gaia Greco, Italy, 08--Pronounced "toe-ray" "grecco". This grape is grown on volcanic soils in the Campania region of Italy. Greco is a light white aromatic varietal from Italy or Greece. You will find this as a featured wine in the summer months. $26

Felino Vina Cobos Malbec, Mendoza, 08- This is another fine red wine from the Paul Hobbs collection. It is made from 91% malbec but you do get the hints of remaining cabernet sauvignon and syrah.  The deep ruby red color with the peppery finish are the signature character of the malbec grape. $45

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, France, 06 - Pronounced "gee-gal" "coat - de - rone" This 2006 French red is the new vintage. Once this wine is made, it is  stored in the barrel for 2 years and barreled for 2 more.  It is made from 55% syrah, 35% granash and 10% mostare grapes. $34

Sheridan Mystique Red, Yakima Valley Washington, 07 --This wine received 91 points from Robert Parker. It is made from 60% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot and 10% cabernet franc. Yakima Valley is part of the greater Columbia Valley in Washington. $53

Around the Valley
Canal Boat Opens for the Season
by Kris


canal boat for daily

Entering it's 3rd season, the LaSalle Canal Boat will open this Friday, May 7th.  Just in time for Mother's day.  Having taken the boat ride, I have to admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by the authenticity of not only the boat, but also the staff.

They are all dressed in period costume and did not break out of their 19th century character once.  During the relaxing ride, they give very colorful and informative resitations of how and why the canal boats came to be.  After that, there was a question and answer period.  Even the answers that came from those questions were given in period lanquage and time frame.  You truly feel like you are taken back in time.

It's a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, finished with a cocktail and a snack at the Uptown of course!

Canal Boat Events
On Our Special
Hood Canal Oysters on the Half Shell
Seared Tuna
Panini Sandwich with Sopressata, Provolone Cheese and Pepperonata
Cumin Chicken and Watercress Salad
Braised Short Ribs
Grilled Mahi Mahi with Mango Pineapple Chutney
Bay Scallops and Pancetta in White Wine Cream Sauce over Spaghetti
Creamed Swiss Chard
Fresh Strawberries with Sugar Glazed Mascarpone
Win a Free Lunch

Foodie Fight Free Lunch Contest
by Kris

foodie fightEach week in the newsletter we will ask 3 questions from the Foodie Fight cards.  The first person to email us (see link below) the correct answers to all three questions will receive a complimentary free lunch.  The winner has to have the correct answer for all three questions, no exceptions.  The following week we will publish the correct answers and the winner from the previous week.  So come on in and have a drink, study the cards, test each other and have fun.    Good Luck!

1. Who, in a TV episode, unknowingly orders escargot in a Paris cafe and exclaims, "Waiter, this food has snails in it," and then requests ketchup?

2. What U.S. President called the cocktail hour "the pause between the errors and trials of the day and the hopes of the night"?

3. What is the name of the French appetizer that uses meat that is slowly cooked in seasoned fat, pounded into a paste, potted and sealed with a layer of fat?


Fine Print...
You must be the first person to respond with all three correct answers.
The response must go to the email address in the above link.
You must reply within 24 hours from the time the newsletter is published.

Last Week questions and answers....

1. How many bubbles does the average bottle of Champagne contain?  About 49 Millions

2. What creamy sauce was created in 1654 by a fishery investor to make dried cod taste better to a snubbing French palate?  Bechamel

3. What did an inflexible diner waitress refuse to hold from Jack Nicholson's sandwich order in "Five Easy Pieces"?  Chicken Salad

This weeks winner of the free lunch ... Marna Anderson
Playlist Theater
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Upcoming Shows    

griffin house 1Griffin House
June 4th
Tickets will be on sale Friday May 7th at 6 pm

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August 13th
Tickets will be on sale Friday May7th at 6 pm

Uptown Grill
601 First St.
La Salle, Il 61301
Mon - Thur 11 am to 10pm  - Fri & Sat 11 am to 11 pm
Sun Noon to 10 pm
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