Rose and Stanley Sacharski never meant to open a tiki bar. Their first watering hole, The Lucky Start on Fullerton and Lockwood, was a simple neighborhood tavern until some bamboo wall coverings inspired endless questions from customers: were they a tiki bar? By 1963, the Sacharskis decided their answer was yes, and let their young son pick a new name—Hala Kahiki—from a copy of Dennis the Menace Goes to Hawaii.
Now located inside a former greenhouse in River Grove, Hala Kahiki pours more than 100 tropical-themed cocktails, mingling rum with daiquiris and gin with tropical fruits. Hanging shells sway above the bamboo-lined bar, and rattan lampshades and cane chairs evoke the pleasures of an endless Hawaiian summer. Tables and chairs dot a spacious outdoor garden, and an on-site gift shop stocks Hawaiian shirts, leis, wood-hewn lamps, and several former cast members of Gilligan's Island.
Thick velvet curtains complement vivid crimson walls and leather furnishings at The Play Room, an upscale cocktail bar where area musicians echo over a menu laden with homemade Italian-American bites. An in-house chalkboard scrawled with daily specials and the correct spelling of the chef’s name, while twisty ribbons of gemelli pasta snake through the Famous Pasta Josephine’s panoply of spicy sausage, pecorino cheese, and house marinara cream. Libations flow from a full-service bar, where expert mixologists concoct specialty cocktails or pour one of a dozen wines in the flickering glow of an on-site fireplace, which casts its gauzy glow over the eatery’s dulcet lineup of local musicians.
Grotto Oak Brook offers a meat-centric approach to fine dining. The dinner menu features prime steaks and chops, seafood, and pastas trimmed from the willow-like foliage of Tuscan semolina trees. Commence consumption with an appetizer of baked clams ($8 for a half-dozen, $15 for a dozen) or bruschetta, heaped with juicy tomatoes, fresh basil, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil ($9). Oxymoron-lovers can sink teeth into a nine-ounce petite filet mignon ($32), while Manhattanite meatheads can slice into their hometown with the generous 1-ounce New York strip-steak ($38). Specialties such as the half-chicken Vesuvio ($21 for boneless, $20 for bone-in), as well as seafood dishes, including the jumbo-shrimp scampi ($26), cater to animal-haters, while vegetarians can find plant-based sustenance in eggplant parmigiana ($17) and customizable pasta dishes ($16+). Pair your meal with a selection from the list of more than 60 wines imported from Italy, France, California, and the recently discovered lunar grape arbor.
Hailed by Chicago magazine as one of 2009's best new restaurants, Glen Prairie has solidified its commitment to Midwestern flavor during the ensuing years, with a kitchen that transmutes organic, gluten-free or family-farmed ingredients into platefuls of contemporary American cuisine. Buns cradling certified Black Angus burgers or Dietzler Farms all-natural patties materialize atop sleek tables in puffs of purple smoke as diners lounge beneath the incandescent light of the sage-toned dining room. The hip setting belies the restaurant’s homey flavors, as elements of comfort food infuse dishes such as the mac ‘n‘ locally farmed cheese, which accompanies chervil-crusted pike or arrives solo as part of the vegetarian selection.
Eco-friendly wines share the fruits of sustainable vineyards. And a choice of regular or mini desserts punctuates meals with perfectly portioned chocolate-chip-cookie sundaes, smothered in gelato and smoked sea-salted caramel. A brunch menu greets the morning with more healthy spreads, featuring frittatas, benedicts, and omelets made from cage-free eggs, trans-fat-free oils, and vegetables that got perfect scores on their ACTs.
Much like the Bat Signal summons Ted Williams back to life, Entourage summons diners with a giant, illuminated, cocktail-shaker-shaped side bay window. Once inside, Entourage offers an upscale dining environment filled with American-style cuisine. Starters include the light but powerful mesclun green salad, which hefts a stilton bleu and dried cherry vinaigrette onto spiced pecans and Fuji apples ($6.75), while the creamy lobster bisque hints at spicy notes ($6.25). Firecracker shrimp tosses crispy fried gulf shrimp into a kiddie pool of sweet chili sriracha sauce along with cilantro, lotus root chips, and grilled lemon ($12.95), and the macadamia-nut-crusted tilapia with banana coconut butter is paired with jasmine rice studded with dried fruit ($24.95). Entourage also offers several specialty cocktails and an extensive wine list.