Sophia (1146 Wilmette Ave, Wilmette, IL) is a new neighborhood steakhouse set to open spring 2020 in downtown Wilmette on Chicago’s North Shore. Restaurateurs Glenn Keefer (formerly of Keefer’s Restaurant) and Ryan O’Donnell (Ballyhoo Hospitality) have reunited to create a neighborhood steakhouse where the menu options encourage guests to visit often; prices are value-driven; the ambiance invites conversations; and the staff becomes like family in all the right ways.
The story of Keefer and O’Donnell’s partnership is years in the making. It was in the early 1980s when Glenn Keefer began his Chicago restaurant career at The Palm. His 12 years at the Gold Coast restaurant helped set the stage for Keefer’s eternal love for steakhouses. At The Palm, Keefer met Bill O’Donnell, whose son, Ryan, would some 20 years later work for Keefer at his River North steakhouse, Keefer’s Restaurant. Keefer quickly became a mentor to the aspiring restaurateur, who went on to be the driving force behind Ballyhoo Hospitality, which includes four Chicago restaurants—Gemini, Coda di Volpe, Walton Street Kitchen + Lounge and Old Pueblo Cantina—in its portfolio.
It was also at Keefer’s that O’Donnell met his future wife, Anna, who is a co-founder of Ballyhoo.
For the duo, Wilmette, a North Shore suburb located 14 miles north of the city, is an area close to their hearts: Keefer lives a few miles from the soon-to-open restaurant, while O’Donnell was raised there and has many family members and close friends who still call Wilmette home.
Sophia derives its name from the first daughter of Archange and Antoine Ouilmette, who settled the Wilmette area.
Keefer and O’Donnell’s extensive background in steak is helpful to sourcing quality meats, whether they’re petite filets, hangars, New York strips or Delmonico ribeyes. Each steak will be finished with a compound butter after it comes out of the restaurant’s special 1800-degree infra-red steakhouse broiler.
Fish and seafood will also be featured at Sophia, which speaks to Keefer’s early days as a commercial fisherman on the East Coast. A Chilled section on the menu offers the traditional shrimp cocktail with additional seafood options in addition to shrimp. Local fish will be represented too, such as trout from Wisconsin.
As with any neighborhood restaurant, there’s a cheeseburger on the menu as well as a curated selection of intriguing salads and sandwiches. A robust starters section will provide plenty of options for those looking for a snack or two while gathering with friends at the spacious bar or in the adjoining lounge. Befitting its steakhouse leanings, there are sides too, including a number of vegetable-focused ones.
A rotating selection of wallet-friendly daily specials—ranging from chicken pot pie Tuesdays and Dover sole Fridays to prime rib Saturdays and fried chicken Sundays—are each sure to garner a loyal group of fans.