Fon-Don't: It's More than Bread and Cheese, Guys

2013-02-10T00:00:00Z Fon-Don't: It's More than Bread and Cheese, GuysMolly Woulfe Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
February 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Real men eat fondue. At least they should. It’s a recipe for romance.

Real women are fond of fondue, especially on special occasions. Valentine’s Day in particular conjures up intimate images…wine, candelight, and long-stemmed forks twirling tidbits in a sweet, nutty Gruyere or savory Emmenthaler.

So no feigning lactose intolerance, amnesia or a sudden urge to attend a Monster Truck Jam on February 14. Suck it up and fork it down, big guy. You’ll love it. And she’ll think you’re a sport.

The Swiss national dish, which traditionally stars a communal pot of melted cheese, has a bad rap for being a meal unfit for he-men, one Chicago fondue fan maintains.

You’d think he-men would enjoy a meal that involves jabbing their food with sharp, pointy objects and plunging it into boiling oil. But nooooooooo. They equate fondue with fussy, dainty fare. And not enough of it.

“They worry they’re not going to get enough to eat,” said Jeff Lawler, managing partner of Geja’s Café, 340 W. Armitage Ave. “They can’t imagine fondue filling them up.”

Take it from the 6-foot-3, 300-pound proprietor, they’ll get their fill. And then some. The typical Geja’s four-course dinner – cheese fondue appetizer, salad, main fondue entrée, flaming chocolate dessert fondue – lasts two hours.

That’s 120 minutes of food ($33-$52 per person) punctuated by chitchat and spearing and smacking lips.

He makes a point of checking up on first-time fondue-ers to ask how their dinner was. More often than not, the guys say “Pretty cool,” said Lawler, 50. “They get tenderloin, they get shrimp, they try this and that.”

A Chicago institution, the candlelit, wine cellar-style bistro, a fixture on romantic hotspot lists, is Fondue Central. The menu features nearly two dozen varieties of fondue ranging from vegan-friendly veggie selections (cooked in vegetable oil) to hearty lobster tail-jumbo shrimp-beef tenderloin combos (dunked in seasoned broth). Patrons self-cook their meals, though the wait staff flames up the famous chocolate fondue tableside.

Some gents fret about the cooking bit at first, Lawler says. They’re afraid they’ll burn that succulent lobster or scorch those tender scallops. Yet after waiters coach them on searing times, fellas morph into master chefs. Some set cell phone timers to the exact second.

Like Lawler, who grew up in the South suburbs and is a 1980 grad of Lincoln-Way High School, Geja’s is low on pretension. “We tell them to relax, to have fun,” he said.

Chalk it up to the candles, or the live flamenco guitar, but romance tends to out-steam fondue pots at Geja’s. The Chicago institution (gejascafe.com) has been the site of 132,736 first dates and 16,033 engagements in its 47-year history. Lawler has personally presided over more than 3,000 engagements. A lot of men pop the question by planting a diamond ring in an (empty) chocolate pot.

“It’s romantic, it’s dimly lit. Dinner takes two hours, so they have two hours of cooking, sharing, togetherness. You have the music playing,” Lawler said. “It’s romance over the top.”

This dessert will sweeten even fondue-wary sweethearts on Valentine’s Day.

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