Every small city seemed to have a locally owned steakhouse in the old days, a place with white tablecloths and votive candles, where people could enjoy a cocktail and a nice meal.
That place in Freeburg was — and still is — Valentine’s Restaurant.
Owners Silulu Brown and her daughter, Lani Parker, are old-school and proud of it. Their menu hasn’t changed much in 41 years. They know many customers by name and work hard to make sure they’re satisfied with the food and service.
“There are people who wouldn’t think of going anyplace else for a good steak dinner,” said customer Elaine Speiser, 51. “They’ve got it nailed.”
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Elaine and her husband, Freeburg mayor Seth Speiser, have been eating at Valentine’s for more than 25 years. They’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions in its back room.
Sometimes Elaine stops in after horseback-riding with her friend, Nancy Cox, wife of former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and Gateway Grizzlies manager Danny Cox. Bartenders start mixing their drinks the minute they walk in the door.
“It’s so comfortable,” Elaine said. “There’s no false pretenses. It’s like home. It has a beautiful atmosphere and wonderful food. It’s so easy to enjoy yourself.”
Elaine usually orders the lobster Rangoon ($7.95) or shrimp cocktail ($9.95) for an appetizer. Meal-wise, she likes the New York strip, cooked rare, served with “the fluffiest baked potato in the world” ($17.95 with two sides).
It’s so comfortable. There’s no false pretenses. It’s like home. It has a beautiful atmosphere and wonderful food. It’s so easy to enjoy yourself.
Customer Elaine Speiser on Valentine’s
Silulu and Lani buy only certified Angus beef and premium Berkshire pork for Valentine’s. They season their meats, chicken, fish and steakburgers using family spice recipes.
They’re fine with people taking home leftovers, but they don’t do carry-outs. It’s part of their quality control.
“Mom doesn’t like the idea of steak in a box,” said Lani, 52. “What if people get it home and it’s not cooked right? Then they microwave it. She just doesn’t like that kind of thing.”
Beyond steaks, popular entrees include baked tilapia, grilled chicken breast and skewered shrimp ($14.95 to $18.95). There are a few sandwiches and salads, including the Black and Blue, topped with seasoned, grilled and sliced filet and blue cheese crumbles ($15.95).
“They have this homemade blue cheese dressing, and it’s to die for,” said Mary Wild, 76, a customer for 40 years.
Today, she and her husband, Paul, 87, stop in almost every Friday night. They start with a drink at the bar — a V.O. press for her and a margarita with housemade sweet and sour for him.
They like the friendliness of the owners, servers and bartenders and the taste of just about everything on the menu. But their favorite entree is the 14-ounce ribeye ($24.95 with two sides).
“It covers about half of a plate,” Mary said. “And their potatoes are the hottest around. We don’t know how they do it.”
Valentine’s is on the lower level of a three-story, tan-sided building on State Street that was built as a hotel in the late 1800s. It already was operating as a restaurant when Silulu and her late husband, John Brown, bought it in 1976.
The couple moved to Freeburg to be near John’s parents. John had managed military social clubs in the Marines and dreamed of owning his own place after retirement.
“I didn’t like the idea at first, but that’s what he wanted to do, so we decided to try it,” said Silulu, 76, who was born in American Samoa and grew up in Hawaii.
“When we got here, this place was known for their fried chicken, but I didn’t like to fry chicken. I said to my husband, ‘I’m going to turn this into a steakhouse.’”
Mom doesn’t like the idea of steak in a box. What if people get it home and it’s not cooked right? Then they microwave it. She just doesn’t like that kind of thing.
Owner Lani Parker on not doing carryouts
The Browns moved into the upstairs apartment with their two children, Lani and Robert, who washed dishes and stocked beer as teenagers.
Lani later went to work for Schnucks, opening new stores in Kansas City, before returning to Freeburg in 1992 to help her parents with the restaurant. John died four years ago.
“I’ve worked here practically my whole life,” Lani said.
“It’s a very family-oriented business. I have a cousin and an aunt who work here, plus my two nephews, and everybody else is like family. I call them my ‘chosen family.’ Everyone gets along well, and I’m thankful for that.”
Silulu and Lani redecorated several years ago, but the restaurant still has its high ceilings with original tin tiles. Red walls are trimmed with tan wainscoting and decorated with matching draperies and white Christmas lights.
Vintage wall hangings include a colorful foil painting of a sidewalk cafe, made by Lani’s grandmother; a mirror with a hand-painted flamingo scene from the ’40s; and an art deco image of a jazz band.
“My mother bought that for my father,” Lani said. “He loved his music. He loved his jazz. My mother saw that (picture), and she just had to have it for him.”
At a glance
- What: Valentine’s Restaurant
- Where: 205 State St. in Freeburg
- Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays and 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
- Seating: 60
- Handicap-accessible: No
- Carryouts: No
- Party room: Yes
- Information: Call 618-539-9169 or visit www.valentinesdining.com
On the menu
- Black and Blue — Certified Angus beef filet seasoned, grilled, sliced and placed on a salad topped with blue cheese crumbles, $15.95
- Ribeye — High-marbled, 14-ounce ribeye seasoned with house spice mix and grilled, $24.95 with two sides
- Lobster Rangoon — Six crispy wontons seasoned with fresh herbs and stuffed with lobster and cream cheese, $7.95
- Shrimp Skewers — Eight jumbo shrimp, seasoned, skewered and grilled, $18.95 with two sides
- Grilled Chicken Breast — Chicken breast seasoned with house spices and grilled, $15.95 with two sides