Whether you prefer seafood, steak, burgers or brick-oven pizza, you are sure to find something you love at these five excellent outdoor spaces.
This time of year, we’re all craving some al fresco dining. Luckily, our region’s restaurants afford ample opportunities for enjoying great food and drink outdoors. Here are just a few choices that offer romance, sophistication, panoramic views, river access, doggy dining, live entertainment, and everything in between.
Port Edward Restaurant, Algonquin
20 Algonquin Road, (847) 658-5441, portedward.com
The patio of this venerable seafood restaurant on the banks of the Fox River is the perfect spot to experience fine dining in an informal setting. Outfitted with 30 wrought-iron tables, the space seats 120. Outdoor diners receive full service and menu, including the famous Friday night International Seafood Buffet and Sunday Champagne Brunch.
Seafood specialties include sushi, made by chefs trained in-house by a Japanese chef. Marking its 50th anniversary this year, Port Edward is noted for its unique nautical decor. Outside is the working lighthouse from the former Milk Pail in Dundee.
“The best feature of the patio is the view,” says Charles Kaskaddin, assistant general manager. “You can look upriver to Ericson Marine, and south to where the river bends west. It’s a beautiful panorama in all seasons, but especially in the fall.”
Patio events include wine tastings, live music on Sundays from 2-6 p.m., and “Doggy Dining” on Tuesday and Thursday, a pet-friendly event which benefits a different sponsor each week. Leased piers allow access from the water and public parking is available on both sides of the building.
Acquaviva Winery, Maple Park
47W614 Illinois 38, (630) 365-0333, aquavivawinery.com
Translated “living water” in Italian, this winery is named for the town in Italy where founder Vito Brandonisio’s grandfather had a vineyard more than 50 years ago. Carrying on the tradition here in the U.S., Brandonisio and his sons began producing award-winning wines in 2008. In May 2010, they opened a beautiful stone building that houses the winemaking facility, a tasting room, wine shop, restaurant and event space, with outdoor dining areas.
“We have two patios, an upper and lower, and both overlook our vineyard,” says Joe Brandonisio, general manager. “The lower patio has a pergola planted with roses and grapevines, so there’s some shade. The upper level is in the open, with seating options for two people, or up to six or eight.”
Both levels receive full service, with menu items ranging from seafood, beef and veal to pasta, fresh salads and brick-oven pizza. “The patios are perfect for an afternoon appetizer and glass of wine, or an intimate evening dinner,” says Brandonisio.
PIER 290, Williams Bay, Wis.
1 Leichty Dr., (262) 245-2100, pier290.com
Opened in July 2012 and owned by Gage Marine, this is the only restaurant located directly on Geneva Lake. “Some restaurants have lake views, but ours is literally on the lake,” says Becke Connelly, director of marketing.
The wooden patio is framed with white railings, offering an unobstructed view of the dock and water. Wooden tables are outfitted with brown woven chairs for comfort and umbrellas for shade. Wooden cocktail tables are crafted from a massive log found at the bottom of the lake.
Outdoor diners may order anything on the menu, which includes salads, fish, beef and poultry prepared with fresh local ingredients. Examples include Jamaican jerk chicken, beef short ribs and Maine lobster rolls. An adjacent canopied dining area includes a bar, fire pit and occasional live entertainment. All guests are encouraged to make reservations, although walk-ins are welcome. Boat slips are limited, and diners who wish to arrive by boat should also make reservations.
The Broken Oar Marina Bar & Grill, Port Barrington
614 Rawson Bridge Road, (847) 639-9468, brokenoar.com
With two outdoor bars, lawn seating and a sky deck overlooking the Fox River, this is one of the largest outdoor dining spaces in McHenry County. Set on seven acres, the business began in 1904; for the past 29 years, it’s been owned and operated by Mike Haber. With a full-service marina and more than 60 boat slips, the eatery is popular with boaters. “It’s kind of a vacation atmosphere here,” says Bonnie Miske, general manager and Haber’s fiancee.
Something is always happening here. For example: Mondays, dine with your dog on the lawn, after 5 p.m.; Tuesdays, come for the farmers market and car show; Wednesdays in July, receive free wakeboard lessons.
One of the two outdoor bars is made out of an old boat, and two kitchens service outdoor diners. “Boaters can pull up and enjoy a juicy burger or specialty sandwich outside at a picnic table, or come upstairs for our expanded menu and dinner specials,” says Miske. “Our Friday fish fry on the lawn is hugely popular. We have chicken kabobs, steaks, crab legs on weekends, prime rib on Saturday.”
Wildwood Restaurant, Geneva
477 S. Third St., (630) 877-8325, wildwoodsteak.com
Owner Patrick Neary lived internationally in his previous work as a financial consultant, and the patios of his award-winning steak and seafood restaurant reflect a European influence. Set on the courtyard of Dodson Place, the dining patio is outfitted with wrought-iron tables, umbrellas and cushioned chairs. “It’s reminiscent of a street-side cafe in Brussels, with the sounds of the water garden, the flow of people,” says Neary. “You get the energy from the street, but it’s relaxing at the same time.” A smaller patio, with cocktail and appetizer service, faces Third Street.
Patio diners receive full service and can order menu items ranging from appetizers to seasonal entrees and desserts. Wildwood is a four-time Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner, lauded for the value and selection of its 300 wines. It also serves 100 craft beers, and servers assist with food pairings for both. “In the daytime, there’s nothing better on the patio than a cold craft beer and one of our steakhouse burgers,” Neary says. “In the evening, a great outdoor dinner would be our citrus and herb-prepared Chilean sea bass, paired with a bright Chablis.”