A Dramatic Entrance

April 2019 View more

Bone-in rib eye

When it comes to dining out, the west suburbs have plenty of seasonal shared-plates spots and upscale bars with fancy burgers on the table and sports on the TVs. When husband-and-wife team Chris Matus and Kelli Lodico-Matus opened their first restaurant, Carnivore & the Queen in Downers Grove in February, they decided to go an entirely different direction. “What we’re doing is bringing back that bygone era of the supper club,” Matus says.

As a kid growing up in the ’70s, Matus has fond memories of dining at supper clubs on family vacations in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Though Lodico-Matus was never enthused about continuing that vacation tradition with their kids—“Can you get a tan there?” she’d say to her parents—she surprised Matus with a birthday trip there three years ago, and the family had a blast visiting half a dozen supper clubs in a few short days.

“They all have their signature thing,” Lodico-Matus says. “Some have prime rib. … [At another] they have this huge cheese spread that you can have at the bar and you get a drink there first and then they take you to your table.” What they all share is the desire to showcase the owners’ family recipes and treat diners to an evening-long experience—and that’s what the Matuses are aiming for with their modern take on a classic supper club.

Lodico-Matus came up with the name while on a walk one day. “The name Carnivore & the Queen to me sounded indulgent, grandiose, and a bit … theatrical?” she says. “I thought it described our personalities … and it stuck! Most importantly, everything on our menu are foods we like to eat and indulge in—with no guilt.”


Cozied into the corner of a strip mall, Carnivore & the Queen is a sexy little space with dark, inky walls and gilded accessories. For an intimate date, ask for one of the pillow-strewn booths; for a more social meal, opt for the eight-seat bar or high-top communal table.

“We wanted to take the old paneling and walleye and bluegills that you would normally see in a Wisconsin supper club and transform it into a cool, swanky [place where] I feel like I’m in downtown Chicago, but here I am tucked into Downers Grove,” Matus says.

A supper club visit traditionally kicks off with a cocktail, and the drink menu here was thoughtfully crafted with local spirits, such as gin from Skeptic Distillery in Melrose Park and rye from Almighty Spirits in Northbrook. There are four different takes on the old-fashioned, including Wisconsin-style (made with brandy and the requisite cherries and orange wedge) and a new-school twist with basil-infused elderflower liqueur.

For a real showstopper, though, order a drink finished in the tableside smoking chamber, such as the rye-based Civil War. A bartender will wheel over a drink cart and place your cocktail inside a hinged glass box that fills with cherry wood smoke. Moments later, he’ll open the door so the aromatic smoke wafts out of the chamber as you retrieve your glass. Theatrical, indeed.


The Matuses both went to culinary school and have worked in hotel, catering, and restaurant settings, but their family recipes fuel much of the menu. “I learned at a very young age to cook from my mom,” Lodico-Matus says. Inspired by the wedge salad with homemade dressing that her mother used to make, she’s serving an iceberg wedge topped with sweet candied bacon, tangy marinated tomatoes, charred corn, and one of four housemade dressings (the Ooo-Lala Garlic was my personal fave).

The salad is part of the restaurant’s five-course supper, an impressive value at $35. Other courses include citrusy walleye ceviche with dreamy house-baked bread, a relish tray with creamy beer cheese, and olive-gorgonzola dip and roasted chicken with root vegetables.

There are 10 or so other entrées—including garlicky shrimp de Jonghe, mussels with little neck clams and a bone-in rib eye—that you can order separately or as part of the supper for an upcharge. The most decadent choice is a 22-ounce double-cut veal chop topped with lump crabmeat.

Key lime pie

“[When someone orders it,] the restaurant comes to a halt because it’s huge,” Matus says. “It looks like what Barney [Rubble] would be driving in The Flintstones.”

There’s just one dessert on offer: a killer Key lime pie made from a treasured Matus family recipe that incorporates ginger for a touch of spice and salted cashews for a rich, nutty crust. If you’re not a pie fan—and in that case, you’re missing out—there are also some thoroughly throwback dessert drinks, such as a grasshopper or brandy Alexander.

At the evening’s end, I left refreshed to see a new restaurant zigging while everyone else is zagging. This modern supper club remix is a novel addition to the local dining scene—and a cure for the common date night.

Photos courtesy Carnivore & the Queen