In a city where steak reigns supreme, offering an exceptional, quality, and consistent product can prove challenging. But when a restaurant strives for that, it often results in long-term success. That’s what Spezia’s Chef Operating Partner Brian Reilly has been focused on for the past 15 years, earning him a loyal local following as well as repeat visitors from across the country.
Reilly’s introduction into the culinary world began as a work-study job when he was a senior in high school. A nice break from his daily chores on the family farm, he decided to later attend Iowa Western’s culinary school and started working on Spezia’s salad line. He worked his way up over the years and eventually bought into the business. But, even today, he still works on that same salad line when needed.
Although the restaurant itself hasn’t changed much over the past 15 years, Reilly has certainly made some important changes. The most notable is that he helped develop the restaurant’s own brand of steak called 1920 All Natural Angus. “It’s from a local company that is one of the highest qualities of beef you can find anywhere, and I’m really proud of the partnership we’ve developed,” Reilly said. He receives the aged meat and then personally hand-cuts it in-house. “It takes a lot of the guesswork out of it so that every single steak is always great.”
He also thinks it’s important for diners to understand that there are differences between the types of steaks served at different restaurants, including preparation. Spezia’s specialty is its wood-fire grill. They start the fire every morning using oak or ash wood and run it all day. The restaurant’s fresh seafood—salmon and scallops flown in daily—are all cooked on the grill, which requires a certain level of talent to do it properly and consistently. “It’s all challenging since steak needs high heat whereas seafood needs to be cooked at a lower heat and more gently,” Reilly explained.
That labor of love is what makes some of Spezia’s signature dishes so desirable. The wood-grilled filet can be paired with jumbo shrimp, diver scallops, or Scottish salmon and served with locally-sourced broccolini. The rack of lamb is wood-grilled and then oven roasted with garlic and rosemary and served with wood-grilled portobello mushrooms and a side of mashed potatoes. The seafood risotto includes shrimp, scallops, green lip muscles and fresh asparagus. No matter what dish you choose, be sure to top it off with Spezia’s signature tiramisu.
Reilly also enjoys the restaurant’s seasonal menus and has brought back a fall favorite: peach chicken. The dish incorporates wood-fire grilled chicken, grilled peaches and fresh asparagus. Plum Creek Farms provides Spezia with free-range chicken, which has been another great partnership for the restaurant. Reilly credits having such quality suppliers with helping enable the restaurant to provide the consistency it’s come to be known for, which is no small feat given that Spezia has 200 seats in the restaurant. “I try to focus on what we do best and focus on our guests who come in regularly,” he said. The restaurant’s location—right off Interstate 80 and 72nd Street—also makes it an ideal location for travelers, many of whom visit every time they pass through town.
The seasoned staff is another reason that Reilly credits Spezia’s consistency. He said it’s so important that when you take the time to train someone, they stay long-term, especially since his and the restaurant’s reputation depend on it. “What makes us different is having that mentality that you can always do more, and I’ve always been someone who gives more than I take,” Reilly said. “The restaurant industry is held to such a high standard, and we make sure we take care of our customers and live up to that.”