One of the first things you notice about Tavern on La Grange is how colorful it is: hot pink and indigo lights wash walls in a neon watercolor effect, and the bottles behind the bar are backlit with red and fuchsia. Murals of art deco-style buildings and figures give the room another added pop. Pasta and steak dishes are among the menu's crowning achievements, along with the likes of lobster tail and lamb chops. People fill the restaurant's spacious, kaleidoscopic dining rooms throughout the week to take in bistro-style meals, drinks, or one of the establishment's periodic events. Those evenings are just one part of what the restaurant's owners hope makes Tavern on La Grange "a quality dining experience and community meeting place."
Beyond an ornate blue-and-white exterior, groups of family and friends celebrate any number of occasions over fresh Mexican seafood dishes. As birthday celebrants don sombreros and farmhands feed cogs to the mechanical bull, fork tines prod fresh lobster, fish tacos, and shrimp fajitas. Mariachi bands, DJs, and karaoke crooners also send music notes sailing through the dining room’s archways, as the 60-ounce Margarita Tsunami complements a whole red snapper doused with hot sauce. Meanwhile, live singers, magicians, and colorful cultural acts ensure eyes and ears feast as thoroughly as bellies do, during theme nights and shows that occur every Wednesday though Sunday.
No matter the weather outside, the inside of Jimmy's Island Grille feels like a relaxing, tropical vacation. It's more than just the Hawaiian-fusion feel or the natural light flooding in the tall windows. Fresh fish flown in from either coast make guests feel like they're ordering right off the beach without getting sand in their shoes. The menu changes every day, depending on what's available, but appearances may be made by such delicacies as fresh Florida stone crab, blue crab claws, Hawaiian mahi, and fresh king crab. A superior selection of prime steaks, such as the 14 oz prime and the 32 oz porter house satisfy meat lovers, and the kitchen crafts its desserts in house instead of outsourcing it to an evil witch's home in the woods.
Using all-natural meats, Amish free-range chicken, and produce from Midwestern farmers’ markets, Hemmingway's Bistro serves fresh, flavorful French fare in an attractive, white-tablecloth-laden dining room. Executive Chef Ala's fondness for melt-on-your-tongue seafood makes its mark on the menu—the restaurant imports fish from the East Coast daily. Satiate seafood cravings with the herb-crusted whitefish paired with caper butter ($18.95), or guzzle away at the Dijon salmon with a side of cream lentils ($21.95). The Classic ($36.95) stuffs grumbling stomachs with half a lobster, nine oysters, three shrimp, three clams, six mussels, and two crabs. Before the main course, showcase your magic skills by cutting the baked brie topped with apricot preserves ($11.95) in half with your saw-teeth. Vegetarians can fork in warm goat-cheese petite salad ($7.95) while carnivores sink their teeth into the roasted lamb rack paired with ratatouille ($26.95). Cleanse your esophagus with a glass of '99 Saint Clement syrah ($9 for a glass) or an '06 Campanile pinot grigio ($7 for a glass) from Hemmingway's stockpile of red and white wines.
With its lapping waves and watery vistas, Lake Michigan makes for a decent approximation of the much larger Atlantic Ocean, where Jeff Mazza feels most at home. Still, the owner of New England Seafood Company Fish Market could not shake a feeling of homesickness when he relocated to the Midwest. "Sitting on a deck eating some fried clams and some lobster rolls, that's every weekend pretty much. That's the stuff we miss and couldn't really find too much out here," he told ABC7’s Hungry Hound.
Rather than pining away and writing novel-length emails to the family dog, Mazza reflected on what he missed the most about New England and put together a plan. Soon enough, he and his brothers had opened a restaurant and market and were busy importing seafood freshly caught in the Atlantic’s waters. Today, their menu includes baked haddock, pan-seared crab cakes, and the aforementioned fried clams and lobster rolls of Jeff’s youth. The lobster rolls—with their cold lobster meat, buttery seasonings, and buns imported from Boston—seem to have won over the most local fans. Serious Eats recently described them as "the purest, simplest version" of the sandwich found in Boston or Chicago.