There’s nothing quite like a fresh, homemade dish that surprises and delights. Discover a few new items and longtime favorites that you’ll find only at our region’s locally owned restaurants.
Discovering new or unique dishes is all part of the fun of dining out. Fortunately for us, our region boasts some excellent homegrown restaurants to explore. We found a few standout dishes that are worth a try on your next food journey.
Available at Lindy’s Landing, Wauconda
Tony Marlotte, chef/manager at Lindy’s Landing, 115 Park St., Wauconda, is really into food. “I’m a typical food nerd,” he says. “I’m constantly reading cookbooks and menus, searching for inspiration for new dishes.”
He struck gold with a sandwich called Cemita, a torta originating from Puebla, Mexico. Cemita refers to the type of roll the sandwich is served on, which is a slightly sweet, but very light, bun-shaped roll topped with sesame seeds. Marlotte plans to feature the sandwich on the restaurant’s spring/summer menu.
“I was intrigued by this sandwich and how delicious it looked, so I tried to replicate it,” he says. “I called my local Mexican bakery, El Molino Azul in Crystal Lake, and Manuel made fresh cemitas for me. We ran it as a special and the response was fantastic.”
Marlotte’s version of this classic uses a breaded pork tenderloin, lightly fried and served on the cemita roll with thinly sliced red onions, finely chopped chipotle chiles in adobo, queso fresco and fresh avocado.
“It’s such a simple sandwich, but the flavors all come together so nicely, and each sandwich is made fresh to order,” he says.
Marlotte supports locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. “It’s always beneficial to know your local baker, butcher, fishmonger or farmer,” he says. “We take them for granted but in almost every case, they will provide products to your exact specification, and the products are fresher and of better quality than mass-produced ‘store bought’ products.”
When it comes to a fresh and unique menu item, Lindy’s Cemita will hit the spot. “I’m all about the simple use of great ingredients,” he says. “Fussy food doesn’t much interest me. I like food that is rustic and real.”
Berkshire Pork Tomahawk Chop
Available at Montarra Grill, Algonquin
Montarra Grill, 1491 S. Randall Road, Algonquin, specializes in creating a contemporary American steakhouse. “It’s really designed for a downtown Chicago experience without the drive,” says Dave Perlick, executive chef, who’s been in the business for nearly 20 years. “Our menu is focused on Midwestern steak and the freshest seafood possible, but also with an emphasis on small-plate dining.”
One of Perlick’s favorite dishes is a locally sourced Berkshire Pork “Tomahawk” Chop. The pork is brined in apple cider and fresh herbs. He serves it with an aged manchego polenta cake, a lady apple/anise compote. Then, the dish is laced with a sherry brown butter demi-glace. Several vegetables complement the tomahawk chop, including organic baby spinach and basil-rubbed tomatoes.
The entire dish takes 12 minutes to prepare. “It’s a great locally sourced dish – it’s consistently one of our most popular items on our menu,” Perlick says. “I love to be creative. I do a little bit of everything for different palates. Guests really enjoy the diversity on our daily specials menu as well.”
Perlick buys his pork from Heritage Berkshire Pork International in Sgt. Bluff, Iowa, and many of his seasonal locally grown vegetables are from farms in Barrington, Marengo and Huntley.
“We look for the best area purveyors to purchase our locally sourced ingredients,” he says.
Available at DiBenedetto Trattoria, Hoffman Estates
Vittorio Di Benedetto knows all about the dishes that come out of his kitchen. He not only created the menu; he’s also the chef.
Di Benedetto is no stranger to the Chicago restaurant scene. He’s opened well-known Italian eateries such as Phil Stefani’s Tavern on Rush, Porto Fino, Mia Cucina, Vittorio de Roma and Ti Amo. His latest venture, Di Benedetto Trattoria, 1766 W. Algonquin Road, Hoffman Estates, offers the same quality Italian fare that his longtime customers have come to expect.
A dish that has served him well over the years is linguine pescatore, a delicacy he brought with him from Rome more than 30 years ago.
Linguine pescatore is a mixture of seafood such as mussel, calamari and shrimp scallops, combined with diced spicy tomatoes and cream sauce tossed with a generous portion of linguine. The dish takes 25 minutes to prepare and comes with a choice of soup or salad.
“Our customers love it,” he says. “If I could change the name of the dish, I would call it ‘linguine unbelievable.’ I’ve owned several restaurants and people always come just for this dish. I’ve tweaked it here and there, but it’s all about the seafood.”
Di Benedetto says his passion for freshness and individual creativity sets him apart. “It all goes back to creating a personal dining experience,” he says. “I care about quality.”
Available at Stockholm’s, Geneva
There’s a team approach when it comes to creating new dishes at Stockholm’s, 306 W. State St., Geneva, a full-service restaurant and microbrewery. That team consists of owner Michael Olesen, general manager Jerry Kowalczyk and chef Dimas Montiel.
“We’re always looking for a way to collaborate in the kitchen,” says Olesen. “Jerry and the guys work on things, and I’ll throw in my two cents. It’s worked well.”
That’s the way it was with chicken pepperoncini, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. It includes two chicken breasts dusted with flour and sauteed with Josef’s Italian sausage, pepperoncini, red peppers, banana peppers, and fresh basil, all served in a white wine broth sauce over penne pasta. The dish is served with your choice of homemade soup or salad.
“It was our top special last year, so we added it to the menu,” says Kowalczyk. “It’s gone over like gangbusters. We strive to have the flavors complement each other. Whenever we come up with a new dish, it’s always a work in progress that continues to evolve.”
Each order is prepared one at a time. All ingredients are sauteed together in one skillet for about nine to 11 minutes. “Everything we serve is made fresh,” says Kowalczyk. “We take pride in being a local restaurant that makes our dishes completely from scratch.
The Italian sausage comes from a local meat market, Josef’s Elegante Meats & Deli, where Stockholm’s also buys its brat burgers and specialty pork chops. “We’ve worked with them over the years on a number of specialty meats,” says Olesen. “We prefer to buy local when we can.”