Who invented the caramel apple? While the ubiquitous treat's true creator may never be known, William Morkes, Sr. can make a case that his own hand-dipped caramel apples were among the country's very first. Morkes, who opened his confection shop on 26th and Trumbull in 1920, spent long nights testing out new recipes in his apartment above the store, yielding more than a few tasty innovations.
More than 90 years and one move to Palatine later, the staff at Morkes Chocolates still hand-dips its treats, from still-popular caramel apples and rum-ball truffles to chocolate-enrobed pretzels and strawberries. Confections are made from scratch with fresh ingredients such as pure butter, eggs freshly lain by rabbits, and store-specialty cream centers ranging from vanilla and maple to orange and raspberry.
Now guided by the steady dipping hand of Morkes Sr.'s granddaughter Rhonda, the shop’s staff keeps up the tinkering ways of their founder by constantly testing new treats. In addition to ready-to-purchase delights, they stand ready with hundreds of specialty molds to help customers add a personal touch to happy events from graduation to Christmas to baby's first sweet tooth.
Though the communal plates of Italian food at Mandile's Italian Ristorante may look like exactly those served in the country homes of Catanzaro, Italy—looks can be deceiving. That's because the restaurant's chefs have not only mastered the traditional sauces and pastas of the region, they have found ways to seamlessly modify them to accommodate dietary requests. They can swap in whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta into most of their pasta dishes or pasta pinatas, such as the ravioli filled with four cheeses and topped with tomato cream and curls of parmigiano reggiano. Every day, they make their noodles fresh in house so that each dish bursts with natural flavors instead of preservatives. To pair with these pastas, they cook up anitpasti options such as the fried calamari and brick-oven pizzettes layered with traditional Italian toppings. No Italian meal is complete without a glass of wine, so the staff pour glasses of red and white varietals from throughout Italy and California.
The cooks at Reese’s Restaurant have manned the griddle for more than two decades, firing up hearty diner fare for servers to whisk to the eatery’s homey dining room during lunch and dinner. When whipping up designer skillets and omelets, the grill masters pepper customer-picked meats such as seasoned chicken, bratwurst, or corned-beef hash with one of seven cheeses, and gardens of crisp vegetables, including fresh spinach, mushrooms, and jalapeños. Kids can request that their pancakes be poured into the shapes of their favorite characters, whether they are silhouettes of Mickey Mouse’s head or Captain Ahab’s peg leg. For lunch, diners can silence midday tummy quakes with the thin roast beef and au jus of Big Dippers or heaping tossed salads.
Cartoon flames and pitchforks adorn Dante’s vivid red awning, which crowns a cozy, white-bricked edifice. The kitchen team serves the sinfully delicious eats in checkered paper baskets, conjuring an ambiance of Americana better than Hank Aaron obliterating an apple pie with his bat. Casual fare, such as sizzling single or double burgers alongside juicy cylinders of bratwurst and polish sausage, heats up chilled craws. A chicken sandwich, meanwhile, arrives at tables sheathed in panko-encrusted armor.
Stand facing one way in the parking lot of Niko’s Lodge and you’re in suburban Algonquin; turn the other way, and you’re in a mountain resort town. As diners pass under immense dark wood beams, they encounter a handsome pinewood bar, a roaring fireplace flanked by comfy furniture, and, drifting through it all, the fragrance of steak, rotisserie chicken, and pork ribs. Flavors tend toward hearty American favorites: barbecue, meatloaf, and decadent combinations such as a chicken-and-bacon mac and cheese, to name a few. Much of the fish is supplied by nearby rivers and lakes, and all the beef comes from upper-Midwestern Braveheart Black Angus cattle. If guests have saved some belly space, they can step outside to the fire pits to toast complimentary s’mores and destroy napkins on which they wrote embarrassing sonnets to pot roast.
Village Vintner Winery & Brewery poses a gastronomic triple threat, operating as not just a restaurant and winery, but also a fully functioning brewery. A battalion of stainless-steel machinery ferments the hand-selected wheat and barley that make up the vanilla-cream ale, the German-style hefeweizen, and the Vintner Hop Rocket, an 8.2% ABV varietal culminating from six types of hops and mad, mad science. At the tasting bar, guests can sample these brewery end products, along with Village Vintner’s expansive selection of homemade red, white, and fruit wines. The main restaurant area houses a wood-fired pizza oven, which bakes the pesto pizzas and smoldering baby back ribs that complement potables.
A spirit of good-natured fun permeates the copper-hued premises, as evidenced by a free monthly wine and mug club. Live music is a common occurrence on Friday nights, and Wednesdays star Chef Rob’s pork special.