Old Towne Pub and Eatery's ample bar seating invites throngs of people to belly up, devour tried-and-true bar fare, and sip frothy glasses of craft, domestic, and imported beers. Televisions blaze with slow-motion replays of Big Ten and NFL games and cast glows on steaming bowls of homemade chili, Angus beef burgers, and platters of barbecue ribs. The clicks and clacks of billiards balls, pinball machines, and arcade games syncopate with the live music of bands that tickle eardrums with upbeat tunes and peacock feathers.
Stand facing one way in the parking lot of Niko’s Lodge and you’re in suburban Algonquin; turn the other way, and you’re in a mountain resort town. As diners pass under immense dark wood beams, they encounter a handsome pinewood bar, a roaring fireplace flanked by comfy furniture, and, drifting through it all, the fragrance of steak, rotisserie chicken, and pork ribs. Flavors tend toward hearty American favorites: barbecue, meatloaf, and decadent combinations such as a chicken-and-bacon mac and cheese, to name a few. Much of the fish is supplied by nearby rivers and lakes, and all the beef comes from upper-Midwestern Braveheart Black Angus cattle. If guests have saved some belly space, they can step outside to the fire pits to toast complimentary s’mores and destroy napkins on which they wrote embarrassing sonnets to pot roast.
Gas lanterns and flat-screen TVs illuminate the wood tables in Charlie Fox's newly renovated dining room, where hearty Italian treats greet diners with piping-hot howdyados. Pizza toppings of ground Angus beef, black olives, spinach, crumbled blue cheese, and more rest warmly atop a variety of dough styles, including thin crust ($9.95+), double dough ($11.45+), pan ($12.95+), and stuffed ($14.45+). The pizzeria's pasta specialties come smothered in homemade red or vodka sauce and include baked and bubbling mostaccioli ($8.95) and eggplant parmigiana ($10.95). Fork-frightened patrons can steady quaking fingers on a creative sandwich such as the pizza burger ($6.99), while those spoon-smitten can whittle a ladle out of an appetizer of cheesy bread ($3.99).
Sarpino's taste-makers deliver both traditional favorites and internationally inspired twists on classic Italian fare, such as pizzas, pasta, and calzones. The New York deli slices up five kinds of meat to bulk up a pie strewn with mozzarella, whereas the Greek pizza ruminates over feta, fresh tomatoes, and black olives ($19.99 each for a large). The BLT pizza bakes in layers of mayonnaise, smoked bacon, and mozzarella before bursting from the oven on a jetpack to be sprinkled with fresh lettuce and tomatoes ($19.99 for a large). Envelop cravings in a calzone, such as the vegetarian pesto packed with black olives, peppers, mushrooms, and a pesto sauce, or build your own with a special cheese-blend foundation to support up to three custom fixtures ($6.99 each). The expansive menu closes out with heaps of pasta, wings, salads, and desserts, which can be used to distract fellow diners while stashing pizza for pepperoni-loving vacuum cleaners.
Today, Colonial Cafe & Ice Cream may have seven full-service family-friendly restaurants, but when it started in 1901, it was only a single small ice cream and dairy store. Now guests can settle into breakfast, lunch, and dinner at each of the eateries –and still enjoy the ice cream that put them on the map. They have garnered particular attention for their signature dish, the Kitchen Sink Sundae, which features two whole bananas, six scoops of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry), whipped cream, chocolate, and chopped almonds with a cherry topper. It’s served in a large dish shaped like a kitchen sink with a S-pipe as the handle. And when diners finish it, they receive a bumper sticker that reads, “I Ate a Colonial Kitchen Sink.”
While ice cream reigns supreme, their breakfasts have also earned praise. They were voted “Best Breakfast” by the Elgin Courier News, Aurora Beacon News, and Naperville Sun. Favorites among the regulars include the stuffed very berry French toast and cinnamon roll French toast. Come dinnertime, they continue serving comfort foods including fresh baked meatloaf and a mac and cheese bacon melt, as well as sandwiches such as the pot roast French dip. The restaurant has also earned plaudits for its popularity with its littlest diners, grabbing the "Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant" designation in the Kane County Chronicle Reader's Choice awards.
Amid the cream and chocolate hues of the 1920s, Moonstruck Food & Entertainment hearkens back to a simpler era with a menu of inventive breakfast dishes wrought from local and organic ingredients. In the surf-and-turf eggs benedict, two slices of english muffin call for order as skirt steak vies against succulent crabmeat for the affections of impassive poached eggs. The veracruz super omelet unites zesty chorizo, jalapeño slices, and cheddar cheese within a buttery egg blanket, and a variety of waffles infused with bacon, caramel-coated green apples, or chocolate brownie pieces fills sunrise excursions with decadence. Purveyors of potables squeeze juice and political secrets from blood oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, and pineapples for fresh breakfast pairings, and the earthy aroma of freshly roasted organic beans precedes invigorating cups of coffee.
When former fast-food execs Ed Rensi and Tom Dentice decided to open their own casual restaurant, they knew they'd have to do some research. In the years since they'd started in the business, the burgeoning foodie culture had transformed this beefy staple into a gourmet food. Honoring the dish's roots in American roadside diners, the duo decided to take a road trip, visiting about 100 restaurants across the country to study what made a gourmet burger.
What they found was a lot of hype and inconsistent execution, starting with inadequate equipment. For instance, the average commercial griddle has hot spots and cold spots that can be 30 degrees different. "You can't get a consistent cook … if you got that much range in temperature on the grill," Ed said. He also saw inconsistencies with ingredient quality: toppings can't save a burger, no matter how good, if a restaurant uses beef from spent dairy cattle. Likewise, good beef loses impact when dressed in drab toppings such as iceberg lettuce.
Once Ed realized what the gourmet burger needed—consistent process and quality across every ingredient—he and Tom went to work. They found an AccuTemp grill that uses steam pressure to uniformly heat the surface. They sourced Midwestern-raised Angus beef ground from chuck with the shoulder clod still intact. And they filled the 20-item condiment station—dubbed the "Tower of Taste"—with all-natural fixings such as three types of organic Heinz ketchup and mustards from Mustard Girl, a company started by a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin.
With a surefire process in place, Tom and Ed began extending their menu to other sandwich fillings, such as fresh chicken breasts, sushi-grade ahi tuna, and edamame burger patties. Sides also benefit from the duo's attention to detail. Hand-dipped ice cream and fresh strawberries swirl into strawberry shakes, which are served with extrawide straws that make it easier to sip when the drink is at its coldest. And at the drink station, fountains pour Boylan sodas sweetened with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup.