In Jimmy's Place's kitchen, chefs cook chicken vesuvio in a finely-tuned blend of olive oil, garlic, and Italian seasonings. According to a December 2011 article in the Forest Park Review, this signature dish is a favorite of Food Network star Jeff Mauro, who featured it on his show Sandwich King. The crispy Italian-American meal uses a recipe passed down through owner Jim Jodoin's family?as does the rest of the menu. Years of culinary tradition are written into the homemade marinara sauce that blankets the restaurant's chicken parmesan, the meat that stuffs its homemade ravioli, and the weighty toppings that keep its pizzas from floating up to the ceiling.
Out in the dining room, these meals pair with a distinctly local atmosphere?newspaper clippings and photos of customers line the walls, and bartenders pour drinks at a full bar as flat screen TVs beam in sports.
At Francesca’s Fiore, the 10th in the group of Francesca’s restaurants sprawled across Illinois's Chicagoland—as well as four other states—tongues embark on a culinary journey, sampling the cuisines of Rome, Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. Executive chef and owner Scott Harris opened his first Francesca’s eatery—Mia Francesca—on Clark Street in 1992, to the rave reviews of both critics and patrons praising it for its simple, rustic cooking, unpretentious elegance, and lack of black holes. He later hired award-winning chefs Kevin Ives and Massimo Salatino to help oversee his other restaurants and create the weekly changing menus that are often handwritten. The chefs and their teams may craft starters such as tricolor bruschetta and risotto, or heartier fare such as pizza, rigatoni primavera, sautéed chicken, and roasted salmon.
Organic and small-batch wines fill swirling glasses beneath the soaring ceilings of House Red Vinoteca. At a rustic, reclaimed-wood bar, discerning staff members subject new elixirs to tastings and credit checks, and the chef makes changes to a rotating menu of vino-enhancing fare made from scratch. Plates bearing crispy flatbreads and desserts inspired by international culinary traditions glide back and forth between duos chattering beneath exposed-brick walls. The warm sway of live jazz rolls across wine-tasting events and bottle-laden shelves, and patrons sipping through tasting flights from Croatia, Lebanon, Morocco, Serbia, and Slovenia add delicate treble notes with clinking glasses.
Since 1977, Starship Restaurant & Catering has fed Chicago's unending need for sandwiches and soups. The cooks' most classic creation goes by the name The Starship, and, to make it, they load a sesame seed bun with ham, turkey, bologna, and two kinds of cheese, topping it with fresh veggies. The sizable sandwich pairs with more than 150 varieties of soup, including familiar staples such as French onion and split pea, as well as original recipes such as pepperoni pizza and Oktoberfest soup, which yells "Prost!" each time you take a sip.
The Junction Diner was born from a child's imagination. Kate and Brad Wahl's son Connor had just turned 1 and received a wooden train set. He played for well over an hour, delighting his parents, who had been searching for something that could keep their son's attention. The next step seemed as natural as a locomotive's forward momentum: they opened a train-themed restaurant to cater to parents and their kids.
Inside The Junction Diner, a long counter wraps around the room's center like a winding train track. Diners sit on either side, and servers move up and down the middle, carrying plates of food with playful, train-inspired names. Customers at the counter itself can even get their meals delivered by an actual train. The aptly titled "Lil Conductor's Menu" delights kids with mini burgers and cheese quesadillas, while older diners peruse "Box Car Burgers" made with certified Black Angus beef and "Junction Wraps" including the buffalo chicken, topped in buffalo sauce, veggies, and a choice of ranch dressing or blue cheese. Near the dining area, a large table with interactive model trains keeps kids busy while their parents finish meals.
Born in New Orleans in 1977, Shanahan's brings the bayou to Forest Park via spicy seafood dishes and creole classics. Their daily menu features red beans and rice with sausage, chicken and andouille jambalaya, and the King Rex steak platter, with blackened rib eye, fresh crabmeat, and a red pepper?jalape?o hollandaise. Talking about the food, owner Tim Shanahan told the Forest Park Review in 2010, ?It's gourmet, as opposed to Cajun, which is more family-style. They both utilize the same ingredients, Creole is just a higher level of cooking.? Monthly Cajun festivals give chefs a chance to parade essential ingredients such as garlic, shrimps, and oysters, or pay tribute to Shanahan's Irish roots without constructing a St. Paddy?s day float out of corned beef.