Sam Elias knows that being cooped up during long winter days can make people stir-crazy. So in 1993, after moving from Florida, land of palm trees and beaches, to Chicago, land of frigid winds and gray slush, he founded WhirlyBall as a way for people to release pent-up energy even as snow was falling outside. During each competitive WhirlyBall game, which combines aspects of basketball, hockey, and jai alai, players zoom across an indoor 50'x80' court in motorized cars called WhirlyBugs. They wield plastic scoops to toss a wiffle ball back and forth to their teammates before throwing the ball through an elevated goal. Refs keep watch during the games, eliminating score arguments that would otherwise end in sunrise duels. To fuel up for a bout, players nibble teriyaki chicken satay, gourmet pizzas, and prime rib, and swig draft beers, which vary by location.
All three WhirlyBall spots boast off-court diversions such as video games, pool tables, foosball, and air hockey. The Vernon Hills location hosts an indoor rock-climbing wall, and both the Chicago and Vernon Hills locations invite guests into multilevel Lasertron laser-tag arenas, which fill with fog and flashing lights as combatants duck, aim, and invoke Geneva Convention protocols regarding armed conflict.
Roundhead's Pizza Pub keeps head holes stuffed with an assortment of menu items as patrons affix their sight-spheres on one of the sports bar's more than 28 TVs. Roundhead's special pizza, packed with sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms (12", $16.25+), silences the grumbling bellies of Blackhawks and Bulls supporters as they argue about whether hockey players or basketball players make more capable museum docents. Kick off a Thursday night trivia session in Lombard with a generous portion of meat-filled homemade lasagna ($11.59) or an order of ultimate nachos, an assortment of cheese, chili, sour cream, and jalapeños perched atop a tortilla chip-mountain like a gooey, amorphous Sherpa ($9.49). Roundhead's also offers a formidable lunch buffet ($7.99), served weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., which turns growling midday munchies into whimpering afternoon siestas.
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.
Even if Gulliver's ovens went cool and the warm-weather chatter on its back patio went silent, visitors would still be drawn through the unassuming façade to witness the sights inside. Dozens of antique lamps from the 19th and early 20th centuries hang from the walls, casting a delicate light on the restaurant's cozy, wood-and-leather interior. Fortunately for hungry patrons, the kitchen continues to operate 47 years after its founding, quieting stomachs' growls with its take on Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
After slapping a mound of their housemade dough into the pan, chefs carefully contour the crust to leave thick, chewy edges and a thin, golden bottom—a tasty compromise for lovers of thin and thick pies. Next, layers of cheese, fresh veggies, and meats such as ham and homemade sausage form a base, covered by a zesty garlic sauce that earned praise from the Chicago Reader. Thin- and stuffed-crust pizzas round out pie offerings, and a tasty cornucopia of Italian soups, sandwiches, and entrees sates pizza-averse diners.
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.