Rock the Steak

May 2018 View more

While there are myriad factors in play at any given time, the restaurant scene in the west suburbs tends to ebb and flow on the changing demands of the consumer. Heavy weekend brunch and post-church crowds have led to a bumper crop of new breakfast places. An insatiable desire for craft beer and artisanal spirits has resulted in ever-lengthening beverage menus all over town. And collective civic love for Naperville’s Riverwalk has inspired a boom of new patios and alfresco areas designed to give diners a waterfront vista for as much of the year as possible.

But while the reasoning behind—and resulting success of—each of these trends is fairly self-explanatory, another recent local development might be a little harder to explain. Because to the extent that the notion of cooking one’s food on a rock had really enjoyed “movement” status, it certainly had been a subtle one. Yet it’s a concept that has indeed arrived in a big—and, in its opening months at least, an exceedingly popular—way in the form of Black Rock Bar & Grill, the new local outlet of the Michigan-based DIY steakhouse.

Careful, that Plate May Be a Little Hot

Combining the in-your-face experience of hibachi with the cook-your-own philosophy of fondue, the central concept at Black Rock is pretty straightforward: Choose a favorite cut of beef and/or piece of seafood and supervise its journey from raw to ready on your own personal 755-degree square of volcanic stone.

Assuming not every diner may be looking to do his or her own cooking on a night away from the kitchen, however, Black Rock also features a wide-ranging menu of fully prepared sandwiches, salads and entrée alternatives that either bypass the rock altogether or simply utilize it as a warming aide.

Our appetizers were a good example of this diversity. Plated and fully cooked when they arrived at the table, the crab cakes required no effort whatsoever on our part—save, perhaps, for our attempts to scrape every last drop of the accompanying cilantro-Sriracha aioli from the dish. On the other hand, the dipping duo of nacho cheese fondue and white garlic cream cheese that accompanied our soft pretzel bites found a warm, cozy home in their individual crocks atop the piping-hot rock—call it hot stone fromage, if you will.

For Those about to Rock

We faced similar choices among the mains, with those stone-reliant steak and seafood options facing off against an enticing off-rock collection of everything from creatively dressed burgers and hot dogs, to ribs and skillet lasagna. Ultimately, however, the novelty of the stone and the intoxicating haze from the surrounding tables convinced me to go to work on a sizzling nine-ounce sirloin and two plump scallops, served with by fully prepared (and supremely satisfying) sides of baked sweet potatoes and creamed corn.

Given the swelling crowd looking to give this concept a shot on a Sunday evening, it’s safe to say Black Rock is already a big draw here in Naperville—and that’s likely to continue. Yet while it was certainly nice to be able to prepare my steak exactly as I liked it, and doubly nice that every bite was as hot and flavorful as the first, I don’t necessarily expect the restaurant’s cook-your-own philosophy to catch fire (so to speak) in many other formats.

But perhaps I’ve simply underestimated the latent demand for this sort of thing. Stay with me here … We give each diner a pot of boiling water and a live lobster …