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.
It all started in 1946 when a Navy cook finished his tour of duty after World War II. He left his destroyer in the South Pacific and set sail for Chicago's South Side. There, he opened a carry-out fried-seafood joint and dubbed it Ship Shape Shrimp Shack, a name that was hard to say but easy to love, thanks to his signature fried-shrimp recipe. For 30 years, he continued delighting customers and living his dream, minus the part where he could fly, until 1976, when health issues forced him to close the restaurant. A few years later, a local truck driver and food-service veteran by the name of Frank took over, renaming the place Frank's Chicago Shrimp House. Under the Navy cook's tutelage, he learned everything there was to know about the shrimp and seafood business, and enjoyed the same success through the golden-fried shrimp and seafood of his predecessor. Today, his daughters are at the helm, keeping tradition alive and well at four locations throughout the Chicagoland area. At those restaurants, they fry up the classics and mix it up with frog legs and New Orleans–style fried shrimp, pairing the crispy morsels with classic sides such as hush puppies, cole slaw, and french fries.
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.
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."
Greg Burhop doesn't hesitate when asked what makes his seafood shops different. "Our stores don't have that fishy fish smell," he says. As soon as fish starts to smell like fish, he explains, it's no longer fresh, a condition Greg and his father, Jeff, studiously avoid by keeping their shop stocked with just-caught, never-frozen goods. They do this by going right to the source—wholesale distributors in Alaska, Hawaii, New England, and as far away as Australia. Their connections with these distributors stretch over the course of Burhop's 85-year history, which started when Greg's great-grandfather, Albert "Pops" Burhop, founded a wholesale-seafood business. When locals started offering him money and moon rocks in exchange for the prized cuts of fish, Pops decided to cut out the middleman.
Today, Greg proudly reports that many of his loyal customers are transplants from the East and West Coasts, where fresh seafood is easier to come by. Ironically, Burhop's gets fresher stuff than many stores on the coasts do, thanks to Chicago's central location, which enables quick shipping from both ends of the country. In the shop, customers can watch as the four or five workers at each store skillfully prepare custom-cut fillets and caviar busts of Admiral Nelson. A series of online video tutorials hosted by Greg himself teach home chefs to prep mouthwatering lobster tails, tuna burgers, and more.
Live music and classic American fare keeps guests returning to Casey's Restaurant & Bar. Whether starting the day with a brunchtime bloody mary or winding down with a steak and a glass of wine, diners find themselves immersed in a casual atmosphere where plates are piled high. Cooks will even cater, which means Casey's fans can host get-togethers fueled by pasta, ribs, and the bands that insist on moving into customers' garages.