Growing up during prohibition and the Great Depression in the Valley Junction neighborhood of West Des Moines, Iowa, John Stamatelos often received 25 cents from government tax collectors in exchange for insider knowledge on the locations of his father’s illegal corn moonshine stills. Happily accepting the cash, the youngster would then lead the G-men astray to spots where stills were long since abandoned.
Stamatelos turned those quarters into seed money for converting his own house into Johnny’s Vets Club in December 1946. Since liquor by the glass was still illegal, he operated the club as a speakeasy. Playing host to community dignitaries and locals alike,
Meanwhile, another Johnny on the other side of town, Johnny Compiano, and his wife, Kay, opened Johnny and Kay’s Restaurant—a humble one-room dining area and bar. Compiano’s love for cooking started in New Orleans while serving in the Coast Guard, and his iconic Steak de Burgo soon become a nightly attraction. Aside from their mutual love of hospitality, both Johnnys laid claim to the best de Burgo in Iowa—one adhering to the Italian style of cooking with olive oil, while the other used butter, garlic, and heavy cream.
In 2001, Heart of America Group owner Mike Whalen created a modern-day tribute to the concepts fostered by Stamatelos and Compiano. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, with 18 restaurants in 9 States honors the same spirit of service and culinary flair as the storied gentlemen sharing this emblematic first name.
Johnny's Italian Steakhouse by the numbers: 13 appetizers (we explained to him that toasted Raviolis were invented in St. Louis), 11 pastas, 7 seafood dishes, 6 steaks, 4 soups, 3 chicken dishes and even more specialty items.
We started our dining experience by sharing a house salad. This Italian dressing salad was more than enough for two.
Three different people suggested I try “Johnny's Chanel No. 5”. I had to think twice about ordering something named after a French perfume at an Italian steakhouse, but I gave it a try. It is Lobster, shrimp, artichokes, prosciutto and cheese ravioli in a garlic cream sauce. Don't hesitate, go for it. It was delicious!
Sue had the Snapper Basilico, a red Snapper fillet, fresh basil, garlic, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, and shaved Asiago with a fresh red sauce. Again, an excellent entree.
Our server was a very attentive without being overbearing, even when he tried to convince to have dessert as he brought a tray of beautiful examples to entice us. Unfortunately for us, our entrees were huge portions that left no room for anything else!
The restaurant has an upscale ambiance with tables, leather booths, curtained private dining areas, an outdoor patio with a fire pit and a comfortable bar area. We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience at Johnny's Italian Steakhouse.
For reservations and more information go to johnnysitaliansteakhouse.com