4 days in Northbrook area
I spent four days this past week working in the Vernon Hills / Northbrook area and had the chance to try a few restaurants. I'm from the Baltimore area and trying these new places in the Chicago 'burbs was a treat.
The big discovery of the trip was Buca di Beppi (or was it Beppi di Buca?) on Milwaukee Ave north of Northbrook. Really good family style Italian. We went there twice, once with a group of 5. It's got pictures all over the walls and the ones in the men's bathroom were very tacky or appropriate depending on your taste. The food was good, especially the garlic bread which was like no garlic bread I've had in the Baltimore area. So buttery and garlicky, yum! The pastas were also excellent, with a penne aribiata being a nice vegetarian option. The chicken saltimbocca was good, not drowned in capers like some I've had, and came (the single serving version) with a side of fettuccine Alfredo which tasted exactly as Alfredo should taste. The only slight miss was the pesto salmon which was very tasty, especially with the roasted garlic that was scattered around the fillets, but was overcooked. Finally, we ordered the Tiramisu for dessert. It was huge and excellent with just a hint of espresso flavor, exactly as it should be.
Another night we tried Chinn's seafood house. It's in a large old building and one of my companions says it has been there for 50+ years. I had a respectable gumbo, the salad bar, which was decent, some good garlic rolls, and the char broiled fish - but I ordered the item that said the chef would pick the type of fish. It came on two skewers and I could not figure out what type of fish it was. The waitress didn't know and seemed uninterested in finding out for me. I didn't care for the char broil seasoning they use, one of my companions got the same topping on swordfish (which was surprising tender). They were nice enough not to charge me for the fish since I didn't really eat it. I wound up going to the salad bar an extra time instead. Maybe it's because I'm from around Baltimore and there are several good fish houses in the area, but I was unimpressed with Chinn's. I've had better back east.
Finally, we tried Portillo's for lunch one day. I had the polish and fries and they were both great. Best polish I ever had, juicy and tasty. I also tried the eclair cake as well, but it was salty. My companion got an Italian sausage that looked really good and the Italian beef looked tasty as well. If I get back to the Chicago area, I'm going to hit Portillo's for lunch again.
So, I feel I had some very good food on this trip. Next time I'm in the area I hope to find a good pizza place and a good beef ribs place as well.
Glad you enjoyed Buca di Beppo. We live right around the corner from there and have found the service and food to be inconsistent.
For great pizza, next time you're in head over to Lou Malnatis on Lake-Cook in Buffalo Grove - not more than 15 minutes from Buca. For ribs, Claim Jumper on Milwaukee right across from Buca is very good. If you don't mind going a bit east, you can head to Carson's Ribs in Deerfield on Waukegan - they're pretty much a Chicago institution.
I agree about Chinn's - personally I think they're overrated.
The stretch of Milwaukee Avenue which includes Buca di Beppo and Bob Chinn's is in the town of Wheeling. It sounds like you were at the very west end of Northbrook, where Allstate et al are located, right next to Wheeling and Prospect Heights. There are several topics discussing recommendations for that area, notably www.chowhound.com/topics/381573 Deerfield and Highland Park are north and east of Northbrook, and have recommendations in the topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/445724
Several of the best Chicago-area pizza places are in Buffalo Grove, which is next to Wheeling, to the north and west. Lou Malnati's ( www.loumalnatis.com ) has single-crust "pan" pizza. Giordano's ( www.giordanos.com ), which serves double-crust "stuffed" pizza, has a location in Buffalo Grove too. Wherever you go, you can call ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.
I agree about Bob Chinn's too. I've found that, although the seafood is fresh, the preparations are uninspiring. We have better seafood in the Chicago area. One of the best is Mitchell's Fish Market in the Glen development in Glenview, next to Northbrook to the southeast. www.mitchellsfishmarket.com I've also found excellent seafood in two of the steakhouses in the Wheeling area, Pete Miller's ( www.petemillers.com ) and Stoney River ( www.stoneyriver.com ).
I went to Claim Jumper in Wheeling and thought it was just terrible, the worst chain restaurant I've visited in recent years. You can read my detailed report about my dreadful dinner there in the topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/381573
Personally, I like Bob Chinn's. It's a casual place with tons of seafood options a large enough menu to provide something for nearly anyone eating with me, in type of food and price. I have had a few below par meals there and I do generally tend to like my seafood to be prepared in a fashion where I can really taste the fish itself. It's also one of the best places to go during Copper River Salmon season, which is one of my personal favorites, so they get a bit of an extra point in my book. :)
I was in Vernon Hills for a few hours Thursday and was able to try Carson's Ribs (it was not too much of a detour from the route to O'Hare). The BBQ sauce was outstanding. Tangy, flavorful, delicious. Unfortunately it's a pig place rather than beef (ok, so there's a beef sandwich, but no beef ribs) but the pig I got was good. I tried the sampler platter which was ribs, chicken, and a "pork chop" that was a 3" chunk'o'pork. The sauce was good on all of it, but the ribs really stood out. Actually, the 3" chunk'o'pork was on the dry side, and could have been a meal on its own anyway. The sauce helped, but couldn't bring it up to the level of the chicken or ribs.
The Caesar salad was decent, no complaints and the service was fast and efficient (a good thing when you're on the way to the airport).
A decent place to eat and if I feel like pork again, I'll head there.
Thanks for the recommendation.
I'm just reading some Chicago info since I will be returning to my hometown for vacation in a month. Can I recommend these people to try some non-chain restaurants since the Chicago area has some of the best in the US. Buca di bepo is just a godawful mess that competes for bottom of the barrel with Magiannos for erstaz atmostphere and cooking.
Claim Jumper --is that the best we can do? I would say a general rule of thumb is not to eat at a restaurant that offers their food in the frozen aisle of your grocery store.
Please help dzoey for the next time he comes to visit.
re: The Old Man
OK, if you are looking in roughly the same area as Claim Jumper and BdB, head down Milwaukee to Glenview and go to Cafe Lucci, a delighful family-run place with a great wine list. If it's a Friday-Saturday, best make a reservation. You will never want to step foot in Buca di Beppo again. Just down from there is Periyali, with fairly representative Chicago-style Greek food and a nice patio where you can eat in warm weather. Those are just the two immediate alternatives I can think of to the Claim Jumper/Buca di Beppo mess. Oh, and you have the Tramonto restaurants in that hotel right across from Claim Jumper. Reviews on those are kind of thin on the ground and/or contradictory. (They are having a Top Chef viewing party there tonight; Tramonto judged that episode and it was filmed in Tramonto's Steak and Seafood.)
Spreading out to the east and west, you have Northbrook, the rest of Glenview and Arlington Heights. I suggest searching the site for those three suburbs. Mt. Prospect has a few things too; People love Flamingo's Seafood.