The ambiance is as friendly as the grill is hot at Mr. J's Bar and Grill. On that sizzling-hot grill, cooks whip up pub favorites such as build-your-own burgers, homemade pizzas, and wings. Feeling like something a bit more upscale? Choose from one of Mr. J's "Fancy Suppers" such as a classic T-bone steak or cold-water salmon in a maple-bourbon sauce. Whatever your delight, wash back your meal with a specialty cocktail, a glass of Copper Ridge house wine, or a mug of cold craft beer.
Inside the kitchens of Crystal Lake Rib House, chef David Faccone takes a methodical, multistep approach to making his baby back ribs: he covers them with dry rub, smokes them, and finally chargrills them before brushing over the final product with housemade barbecue sauce. His work has paid off—his tender baby back slabs earned the restaurant a 2012 Best of the Fox Award for Barbecue from Planit Northwest, as well as praise from Pat Bruno of the Chicago Sun-Times, who called them "a gift from the Gods of barbecue." In addition to ribs, the cooks also chargrill half-pound burgers, topping them with lettuce and tomato or a meaty pile of pulled pork and melted cheddar. The kitchen’s old-fashioned attention to smoked flavor is reflected in the building itself, an old house whose wooden front porch is adorned with wagon wheels. Inside, rustic hardwood floors support tables topped with white-and-red-checkered cloths, where patrons dip their spoons into hearty chili and sip domestic and imported brews.
Crystal Lake Rib House also arranges catering services for office gatherings, family reunions, and pool parties near bubbling barbecue-sauce springs. They have even catered for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Randy Travis, and Illinois governors, according to staff.
Hawthorne's Backyard's culinary architects animate the American fare, such as burgers, ribs, and roasts, depicted on the menu. An appetizer of loaded chili cheese fries, which swim in green onions and sour cream ($5.99), can prep palates for an appointment with a hearty entree. Momma's pot-roast sandwich, a pulled-pork tenderloin cooked in homemade barbecue sauce and set inside a hoagie bun, frolics across taste-bud territory ($8.50), and the backyard double cheeseburger dually satiates meat and dairy yearnings ($10.50). A full slab of signature baby-back ribs comes to tables drenched in barbecue sauce and, like a subpoena from a grandmother, is served with cinnamon apples and sweet-potato fries ($18.99).
Voted one of Madison Magazine's Best New Restaurants of 2010, this down-home eatery delivers a menu loaded with barbecue-style southern savories and a deluge of draft and bottled beers. Customers will have to discard their dog’s squeaky toys at the door to keep mum about the menu's hush-puppies appetizer, a stack of southern-fried cornmeal fritters served with spicy mayo ($6.99). Diners can also dive into a legume-laden vegetable sandwich, packed with grilled portabella mushrooms, broccoli-forest-fire-roasted roma tomatoes, smoked gouda, and herb-infused garlic spread ($7.99), or beckon a rack of Brickhouse ribs, slow cooked in the St. Louis style and smothered in a signature spice blend ($19.99). The brisket sandwich sports Texas-style meat smoked in-house under a mound of melted pepper-jack cheese and onion strings ($8.99), while the southern catfish appeases anglers with a blackened or cornmeal-dusted, pan-fried filet coupled with corn-poblano relish and spicy mayo ($11.99).
Simplicity and quality meet in The Full Slab's choice-cut meats, which absorb the rich flavors of house-made marinades, six barbecue sauces, and hand-blended dry rubs. The aroma of flame-smacked, made-from-scratch pulled pork, brisket, and ribs, as well as seafood and pasta plates, fills the eatery. Diners can also take in a game on one of The Full Slab's big-screen TVs while enjoying a hand-crafted cocktail or cold beer from its well-stocked bar.
Pockets' health-conscious chefs have stuffed stomachs with fresh, all-natural ingredients for more than 20 years, creating low-fat, high-protein combinations of vegetables, fine cheese, and lean meats. Within freshly baked multigrain bread, selections such as spinach, salami, turkey, and tuna combine with edamame beans, crunchy noodles, dried cranberries, and a splash from one of more than 10 dressings, creating a snack more portable than a bicycle made of chocolate. Menu pages also brim with eight healthy salads, seven hearty calzones, and a kids' menu with pint-size portions and sides of magic. Not content with just challenging fast-food ideals, the locally owned Pockets furthers change in its community by regularly donating up to 50% of its profit to charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Fox Valley Heart Foundation.