Chef Profile

Diners can find hand-cut steaks, fresh seafood, small plates and more, all in a historic setting that once housed an opera house and dance hall at the Opera House Steak and Seafood restaurant in Plainfield.

Opera House Steak and Seafood opened in October 2016 on the second floor within one of the most architecturally significant and prominent buildings in downtown Plainfield, which recently underwent a $1 million renovation.

Built after the 1898 fire, an opera house operated on the second floor, attracting performances from Chicago and later transformed into a movie house, featuring live theater and motion pictures. The building also once operated as a dance hall, a soda fountain in the 1930s and 1940s and other restaurants, including a New Orleans themed restaurant in the late 1990s.

“The ambiance alone is what people love. To have great food and have the ambiance, I think it’s a win-win for me and the customers,” said executive chef Nick Dispenza, who added the restaurant still features the original hardwood floors as well as other mementos that diners can view of the building’s history in the hallway.

Graduating from Joliet Junior College’s culinary arts program, Dispenza has worked at numerous restaurants including the Hollywood Casino in Joliet’s Final Cut Steakhouse and also worked as an adjunct culinary instructor at Joliet Junior College. He came to Opera House in May 2016.

The menu features eight cuts of steak, all sourced from the Chicago Stockyard and hand cut. Popular options, Dispenza said, include the 10-ounce center cut wet aged filet mignon and the 20-ounce bone-in ribeye. Diners can go for the wow factor by ordering the tomahawk steak, a 32-ounce bone-in ribeye, enough to feed two people.

Other meat options include the New Zealand lamb chops, two double-boned chops with a red wine demi and a Berkshire pork chop with an apple bacon butter and succotash.

“One of the things that we take pride in is we butcher our meats, so our price point is kept a little less,” he said.

Cutting their own meats, Dispenza said, also gives them the opportunity to offer unique cuts. One that is added as an occasional special is a 10-ounce steak called the ribeye cap, the top muscle off the whole ribeye.

“You can’t get them anywhere else in this area, and I get people who call ahead to have me reserve some for them when they come in,” he said. “It has turned out to be a huge hit.”

Knowing diners in the Midwest also enjoy seafood, Dispenza receives deliveries a minimum three times a week to maintain the freshest seafood. A popular entree is an 8-ounce halibut, served with a lobster risotto and a lemon mustard cream sauce. The menu also includes Alaskan king crab legs and fresh shucked oysters, as well as oysters Rockefeller with a bacon, spinach and cheese herb gratin, lobster tail and cedar plank salmon with a roasted red pepper pesto sauce.

“They know they can get a good piece of fish that’s fresh and prepared right. The word is out that we can prepare great seafood,” he said.

Diners at Opera House also can enjoy a selection of small plates, such as the jumbo lump crab cakes, using a recipe Dispenza learned while working in Boston. There’s also the addictive pig candy, candied bacon mixed with apricot glaze, brown sugar and roasted spiced pecans.

“Anything with bacon I tend to take pride in,” he said. “People who know me knows pork is my go-to.”

Dispenza also makes homemade sausages and smoked cheeses that he combines with mustards, jams and other spreads as part of a charcuterie board. He said the platter will vary monthly as he explores flavors to pair together.

A homegrown chef, Dispenza welcomes diners to come to Opera House Steak and Seafood, a local gem that is serving a good meal closer to home.

“As they leave the restaurant, they had good ambiance. They were comfortable. They had good food, and now they know that they can drive 10 minutes for a good restaurant as opposed to 45 minutes to drive to the city,” he said.