BISTRO ON THE BOULEVARD. 521 Lake Blvd, St. Joseph. 269.983.3882. thebistroontheboulevard.com. This American Bistro on Lake Michigan has a well-deserved and unrivaled reputation in Southwest Michigan. The view through the French doors overlooking the bluff is spectacular no matter what season, though dining outside on the porch has its own special charm, particularly at sunset or on a starry summer night. The interior of the dining room and cozy adjacent bar is impeccable. The menu changes frequently to accommodate seasonal, fresh and available fruits and vegetables, much of which are grown locally, but the basic entrée list—created by executive chef Ryan Thornburg, who worked as the restaurant's sous chef for three years when it first opened—is extensive. Thornburg returned in 2009 after working as executive chef at Tosi's Restaurant and then the Orchard Hills Country Club, to replace longtime executive chef Ali Barker, who moved from the area. Thornburg's menu items include Horseradish Crusted Salmon accompanied by sautéed spinach in a Michigan cherry vinaigrette, Steak Frites—a tallgrass 8-ounce top sirloin with pomme frites and herb butter—and Crispy Duck Confit with Sweet Potato Perogies, Micro Greens, and Walnut Vinaigrette. Prices are reasonable, starting at $18 for Chicken and Pasta dishes, to steaks for around $30. Be sure to check out the last Wednesday of the month's sushi menu for a unique selection of rolls and starters as well as a choice of sakes. Reservations are always helpful, especially on the weekends.
BUTCH'S RESTAURANT. 44 E Eighth St, Holland, Michigan. 616.396.8227. butchs.net. Two distinct menus and a vast array of wines have made this friendly wine shop and bistro a lakeshore favorite. Tomato basil soup, gorgonzola Caesar salad with housemade dressing, and a white meat chicken with toasted almonds, grapes, celery and creamy dressing served in a pita roll are just a few of the house lunch specialties. Chicken or vegetarian quesadillas wrapped in 14-inch flour tortillas are the best. The dinner menu is even more expansive, with the addition of salmon, scallops, chicken, steak, lamb and filet mignon entrées; elaborate salads such as chicken with house greens; a half-pound Angus beef burger; and meal-sized appetizers such as pan-seared tuna, brie backed with cranberries and Michigan maple syrup, and stuffed portabella. A sandwich with soup or salad at lunch costs about $10. Dinner entrées come in under $35 and appetizers are usually less than $12.
CAFÉ GULISTAN. 13581 Red Arrow Hwy, Harbert. 269.469.6779. cafegulistan.com. Café Gulistan was established in 1994 by Ibrahim Parlak, a Kurd from Turkey (in the Kurdish language, Gulistan means the "Land of Roses"). The café offers a taste of the Middle East, from its traditional appetizers (babaghanoush, tabouleh, ezme and falafil) and many lamb specialties to vegetarian entrées such as Sultan's Tava (fresh spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, carrots and chickpeas, sautéed in a curry garlic sauce, served with Basmati rice). In addition to Turkish and Lebanese wines, a full bar is also offered.
Copper Rock. 11111 Wilson Rd.,New Buffalo. 866.494.6371. fourwindscasino.com/dining/copperrock.asp. A meat lover's delight, this upscale restaurant features Midwestern USDA Prime steaks aged for 42 days in their Himalayan Salt Brick Locker as well as a nice selection of seafood including cold water lobster, fresh seasonal oysters, crab cakes, king crab legs and colossal shrimp. For serious carnivores, there's the 55-day dry-aged 26-ounces bone-in rib eye while oenophiles will love the 450 selections of wine by the bottle or 40 selections by the glass. Must try sides are the truffled lobster mac 'n cheese made with aged white cheddar and truffle cheese sauce, cavatappi noodles and chunks of lobster meat and the Copper Rock Cheesy Fries — giant fried potato wedges smothered in truffle cheese sauce, crispy pancetta lardons and scallions. The Copper Classic Dinners offer a three-course selection of starters, entrees and desserts from a list including such selections as a grilled Kurobuta pork chop with apples, caramelized onions and mashed sweet potato, roasted chicken breast stuffed with king crab meat accompanied with asparagus, demi-glace and Hollandaise sauces, and chocolate mousse dome and crème brulèe.
THE DINING ROOM and THE GRILL ROOM at CLEARBROOK. 6495 Clearbrook Dr, Saugatuck. 269.857.2000. clearbrookdining.com. Clearbrook has all the good features of an old-fashioned country club, including outstanding service, a magnificent golf course and garden setting, and "contemporary classic cuisine" featuring fresh foods produced on nearby farms with influences from around the globe. Local and seasonal favorites include their legendary Canadian walleye, served in both the formal dining area and also the more casual Grill Room. The hand-cut steaks are the pride of Executive Chef Jeff Kudrna, but there are different specials every day and often a prix fixe Chef's Tasting Menu, which includes two 4-ounce vintage wines to complement the six courses. Steaks are served in various cut sizes with a choice of sauces: au poivre cream with morel butter, sweet mustard demi-glace and Sauce Hussarde with cipollini onion. The Grill Room has its own menu that can be ordered by the portion-in the case of the chicken wing basket, big and bigger-with some imaginative choices like a seared salmon cake burger served on a wheat bun with dill aioli, summer slaw and marinated potato salad. The extensive wine list is a multi-year Wine Spectator award winner and includes the best of local vineyards such as Fenn Valley, a solid selection from Europe and delicious Napa Valley wines, with twenty or so available by the glass. Hess Estate Napa `03 Cabernet Sauvignon ($9) is a personal favorite. Interesting desserts are a specialty of the house and of Pastry Chef Mark Mesaros. Fixed price menu dinners are about $50, and entrées run about $25. Dinner in the Grill Room will cost from $10 to $20. Reservations are recommended for the Dining Room; even though Clearbrook is a large facility, it is very popular, especially in season.
EVERYDAY PEOPLE CAFÉ. 11 Center St, Douglas. 269.857.4240. everydaypeoplecafe.com. Since its transformation from a dinette in 1998, the award-winning hotspot has been earning its awesome reputation. The comfortable but tastefully appointed dining room at the middle of town attracts followers from all over. Executive Chef Matt Balmer and Head Chef Michael Bild have developed a first-rate menu that in some ways defies comparison. Popular first courses include lamb chops marinated in spicy garlic sauce and gourmet seafood selections like shrimp cooked in sambuca and vegetable cream. Entrées range from Buffalo strip steak and gorgonzola pork chops to lobster-scallop risotto. The signature dessert is crème brûlée served with puff pastries. Wines by the glass are an excellent value. Lunch entrées average $7; dinner average is $16.
FOOD DANCE. 401 E Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo. 269.382.1888. fooddancerestaurant.com. Executive Chef Julie Stanley's commitment to Chef's Collaborative and Slow Foods is what makes the restaurant-an offshoot of the food mentor-provider Local Harvest-a special and vibrant place. Locals rave about the breakfasts built on fluffy fresh eggs, and pancakes and waffles served with pots of locally tapped maple syrup. But the lunch menu features more fruit and vegetables from Southwest Michigan served in sandwiches on Zingerman's artisan breads or in salads with chef-made dressings. Desserts, like a grilled strawberry pizza and blackberry panna cotta with raspberry reduction, are rich and imaginative. Watch for wine-tasting dinners with selections like pomegranate-glazed chicken salad with orange vinaigrette and spicy pecans, and grilled antipasto with gorgonzola crostini and roasted salmon on spicy greens. The wines are thoughtfully paired for contrasting and complementary tastes, like cucumber noodle pad Thai with Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner, Austria. Food Dance itself is paired with an emporium of locally owned and grown comestibles, including dairy products, dried fruits and nuts, and honey and bee products, for starters. Get a great meal any time of day for about $20. The wine tasting dinners cost $45.
THE GRILLE AT HARBOR SHORES. 400 Klock Rd, Benton Harbor. 269.932.4653. harborshoreslife.com/grill. The 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course is the picturesque backdrop for the Grille at Harbor Shores, which will open to the public on April 14. The new clubhouse restaurant will be open seven days a week during golf season (April - October) and will schedule selected open days of the week in the off-season. Executive chef Mark Smith's menu plans for breakfast, lunch and dinner will be focused on locally grown and sustainable food including a range of daily and weekly specials. While the lunch menu will have a variety of sandwiches, burgers and entrée salads, dinner will feature steaks, poultry, fish and signature dishes, plus a complete wine list.
Hard Rock Café Four Winds. 11111 Wilson Rd, New Buffalo. 800.494.6371. fourwindscasino.com/dining/hard_rock_cafe.asp. Hard Rock's energy pulsates in perfect synergy with Four Winds, making it a must stop for those who thrive on live entertainment, late night dining options, rock and rock memorabilia (nobody does it better than Hard Rock Cafe) and well prepared American style food while staying close to the casino action. Adjacent to the gaming area, the two level, 12,000 sq. ft. Hard Rock features seating for 275, live entertainment and, of course, a large gift shop area. Beyond their Legendary Burgers like the 10 ouncer topped with seasoned bacon, Cheddar cheese, crisp fried onion ring, lettuce, tomato and pickles, there's grilled salmon, smokehouse offerings like BBQ ribs and chicken as well as smoked pulled pork, a weekend breakfast buffet and happy hour. The kids' menu features crispy chicken drum sticks tossed in their signature sweet Hickory BBQ Sauce, hot dogs and oven roasted chicken salad. For dessert, make the hard choice between such sweets as chocolate mousse, strawberry cheesecake, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and chocolate peanut butter pie.
BENTWOOD TAVERN at MARINA GRAND RESORT. 600 W Water St, New Buffalo. 877.945.8600. marinagrandresort.com. This new bistro on the harbor is decked out with artistic lighting, an art deco style and an atmosphere that is casual but cool. The menu for the newest and hottest restaurant in Harbor country is entitled "Artisan Comfort Cuisine," and it gets right to the point with simple items that are sensibly priced. Starters include housemade pub chips with onion dip and a polenta with triple mushroom ragout. There are frequent specials created by legendary Chef Jenny Drilon, including an appetizer pizza topped with mixed greens and fresh tomato blue cheese vinaigrette-only one of the luxurious dressings available. Entrées include hoisin-glazed barbeque salmon, brewmasters roasted chicken, mixed grill of lamb, shrimp and sausage and-an interesting departure-a Delmonico steak. Only three choices for dessert, but they are all winners: fresh fruit gratin, rhubarb crisp and chocolate cream pie. The wine and beer lists are also short and inspiring, with seven wines available by the bottle and the glass. The prices range from economical-about $15 for a lunch or light dinner-to a bargain at less than $25 for a complete dinner with a glass of wine.
LUISA'S CAFE. 13698 Red Arrow Hwy, Harbert. 269.469.9037. harbertswedishbakery.com/luisascafe.html. Luisa's Café features handmade batters with unbleached and whole grain flours with a gluten free menu. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are used when available, and favorite offerings include fresh hand-squeezed orange juice, frittatas, Swedish pancakes, panini and crepes. The bakery next door carries Swedish limpa and rye as well as coffee cakes and pastries.
THE PHOENIX. 124 Water Street, Benton Harbor. 269.925.8060. thephoenixbh.com. For those wanting to taste Elizabeth Frost's exquisite, freshly made croissants, timing is everything at the Phoenix, her cafe in the Arts District of Benton Harbor. Frost starts rolling out the laminated layers of butter and dough in this historic building, with its large windows overlooking the blossoming neighborhood, at a time when late-nighters are just thinking of going to bed. Since she first opened, word of mouth has spiked demand and the French pastries sell so quickly that Frost, who is dedicated to quality, often can't keep up with the demand. Currently she's offering three varieties-plain, ham and Gruyere cheese, and chocolate. But even those that miss out on her croissants can still enjoy her other baked goods, like the wonderful scones-often made with fresh fruit when in season-and such breakfast offerings as the One Eyed Jack-bread with a hole cut out of the middle to accommodate a cooked egg-and Egg McPhoenix, two organic eggs with a blend of cheeses served grilled on Challah bread. As with all the breakfast breads, lunch items are made with breads shipped in from the famed Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor and include grilled pimento and cheese, and turkey, havarti, bacon and avocado with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. There's freshly brewed coffee, lattes and cappuccinos, Boylan sodas and an array of teas. Outdoor seating completes Frost's croissant dream.
RESERVE WINE & FOOD BAR. 21 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids. 616.855.9463. reservegr.com. Sleek and sophisticated, Reserve Wine & Food Bar in downtown Grand Rapids is a food lover's dream. It is here that executive chef Matt Millar, a James Beard nominee and owner of the now-closed, much-loved Journeyman in Fennville, takes his culinary skills to an incendiary level. The restaurant, located in an old bank (the vault is now a wine cellar with private dining options), has a soaring two-story main floor with a charcuterie bar where Millar creates such wonders as his Riesling poached foie gras and housemade boudin blanc sausage. The tasting bar, with its Cruvinet preservation system dispensing more than 100 wines by the glass, was designed to showcase the larger-than-life painting "Open Water #24," winner of the first Art Prize competition sponsored by the DeVos family, who also co-own the restaurant. Upstairs, the lively buzz is more muted for those who want intimate dining. But no matter where you sit, the food is amazing. With a menu reading like a who's who of locavore and artisan food producers there's Blis handcrafted Michigan-made smoked steelhead roe, Mangalitsa ham from Baker's Green Acres in Marion, Michigan, and goat cheese from Dancing Goat Creamery in Fennville. And, of course, there's the wine—try samples by ordering wine flights and types.
SALT OF THE EARTH. 114 E Main St, Fennville. 269.561.7258. saltoftheearthfennville.com. Rustic American cooking- using local produce and meat from the farmlands dotting Western Michigan-reflects the food philosophy of Salt of the Earth located in Fennville, a small farm town with a serious food presence. "We cook from scratch," says executive Chef Matthew Pietsch, who has created a full menu of entrees, sandwiches, wood oven fired pizzas, creative soups, fresh salads, desserts, and artisan breads. Their full service bar proudly serves Michigan craft beers, hard ciders, spirits, and wines alongside other domestic and international products. A 'Specialty Sips' menu includes a scratch margarita, fresh mojitos, and other seasonal cocktails. They are also an entertainment destination presenting the finest roots musicians on the scene at weekly house concerts. Says proprietor Mark Schrock, "We are proud to offer a high quality experience in a relaxed and casual atmosphere and hope to serve you soon." Open for dinner only, call 269.561.7258 or visit saltoftheearthfennville.com for menus, current hours of operation, house concert, and event schedules.
SAN CHEZ and MEZZE CAFÉ. 38 W Fulton St, Grand Rapids. San Chez: 616.774.8272. sanchezbistro.com. Mezze Café: 616.776.6950. The wildly popular purveyor of Mediterranean-Moroccan cuisine is conveniently situated downtown and is the most recommended destination café in Grand Rapids. It opens as a café in the morning with a complete menu of coffee drinks and a fresh pastry selection, including a Moroccan almond honey cinnamon phyllo roll glazed with orange honey syrup. The breakfast menu is extensive-with traditional staples like custom omelets, waffles, and an egg, bacon and cheese croissant-or extravagant, like bloody Mary hash with skirt steak, home fries, peppers and scallions topped with two eggs any style. Midday, the menu choices seem endless, with pages of vegetable, poultry, meat (the Feijoada Classic Brazilian Stew is a mix of smoked pork, sausage, black beans and habanero salsa), seafood and shish kebab. Even the chocolate dessert is an irresistible combination of whiskey cake, semi-sweet truffles and traditional caramel flan. Combinations and small plates average $8-$10, and the servers recommend that you try two to three of each, but tables of four or more people are common, and everyone shares everything. The servers are cheerful, helpful and cooperative, the cantina music and atmosphere are joyous, and it is almost always a little bit crowded. Reservations are not accepted but no one seems to mind a short wait, especially when accompanied by a pitcher of housemade Sangria.
SCHU'S BAR & GRILL. 501 Pleasant St, St. Joseph. 269.983.7248. schulersrest.com. The restaurant tradition of Schuler's goes back four generations in Michigan and continues with Schu's Bar & Grill in St. Joe. Diners can enjoy a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan and cozy up to the hand-crafted fieldstone fireplace. Good conversation and good food are all part of the experience at Schu's, where the start of a tasty night includes Schu's potato soup-the restaurant's famous original soup served with cheddar cheese, bacon bits and diced scallions. Gumbos and a selection of distinctive salads, like the sweet chili shrimp salad, also make great starters before the hearty portions of pasta or a sizzlin' rib eye steak. Also, try the terrific fall-off-the-bone barbeque ribs presented on a wooden plank with tangy molasses sauce served with crispy French fries. Schu's is also a great place to stop for lunch. A homemade egg salad sandwich is made exceptional with shallots and a touch of tarragon topped with lettuce and tomato, or devour the salmon B.L.T. made with a generous six-ounce portion of grilled salmon with crisp bacon, mixed greens and fresh tomatoes, topped with tarragon Dijon sauce and served with housemade chips.
SIX ONE SIX at JW MARRIOTT HOTEL. 235 Louis Campau Promenade NW, Grand Rapids. 616.242.1500. ilovethejw.com/dining.html. SIX ONE SIX at JW MARRIOTT HOTEL. Bringing the best through the door on the front end is the hallmark of this brand-new luxury hotel, located in this Michigan town on a growth trajectory. The menu is simple, and Executive Chef Justin Dalenberg satisfies the most discerning palate. Size, freshness and outstanding taste characterize the seafood. The mussels, oysters, salmon, tuna and scallops are cooked flawlessly and served in a variety of ways, including raw, grilled and poached in herb and broth combinations that coax out and mix perfect flavors. Locally produced poultry, particularly the duck breast, gets an excellent treatment with specially designed, hand-cut vegetable sides. Steaks, chops and filets are held to a high standard, and the wine pairings exceed expectations. But the extras make the entire experience so memorable: the perfect martini with a choice of olives; spiced butter and cheese selections served with a variety of fresh-baked crackers and breads; a cheese plate presented with separate garnishes for each type and slice; and housemade desserts, including a thick, rich and dense crème brûlée in multiple flavors. Even the coffee is a treat, especially when complemented by an aged Porto. The architecture, spacious interior design, orchestrated and technically perfect lighting, and impeccable service combine to create an atmosphere that enhances the experience. Entrées average $25-$35. The specialty drink (the bar features a wall of blue Skyy Vodka bottles) and the wine list, like the menu, are high-quality and carefully chosen. Reservations are a very good idea; while the restaurant, Mixology bar and the atrium lounge fill the vast expanse of the first floor, at certain times on the weekends every seat is taken, and there may be a short wait.
TABOR HILL WINERY & RESTAURANT. 185 Mt Tabor Rd, Buchanan. 800.283.3363. taborhill.com. Tabor Hill Winery's restaurant is all at once elegant, urbane and semi-casual. Its windows afford ample, rolling vineyard views; the menu is sophisticated. Chef John Paul Verhage, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, gives a modified California-cuisine touch to signature dishes like raspberry chicken and the salmon wrapped in grape leaves. The extensive appetizer menu includes items like mini Morel Mushroom Pizzas and Kobe Beef Carpaccio. Though the restaurant is easy to find-just a half hour north of South Bend and 20 minutes east of New Buffalo-it's not always easy to get in. Reservations are suggested-but those who wander in unannounced can sip at the complimentary wine bar or purchase a glass and enjoy it on the stone terrace overlooking the vines. Tabor Hill produces a wonderful variety of award-winning wines, but for those who desire a harder libation, a full bar awaits.
TIM'S TOO ASIAN GRILL. 511 Pleasant St, St. Joseph. 269.985.0094. timstoo.com. Tim Sizer's new restaurant is a definite departure from Timothy's in Union Pier, his legendary, swank seafood emporium along the beach at the Gordon Inn, though the collection of Asian-inspired selections have plenty of fresh fish that the chef proprietor is already so famous for in Harbor Country. The basic program to order stir-fry: you pick the vegetables, meat and noodles and the chef fries them together. The main course is creatively priced at $8.99 for lunch, and a second trip will only cost you $3 more.Dinner is $13.99 and $4 for a second trip. The house-prepared appetizers are where the buzz is right now, with favorites like sugarcane shrimp, wonton shrimp, and vegetable spring rolls. You can choose from 21 sauces to go with your meal, which are easily combined. (The menu suggests complementary pairings.) Also available are vegetarian and gluten-free foods and sauces. Must-have desserts include warm chocolate lava cake and assorted cheesecakes. Your choice for $7. Tim's Too now has a full liquor license, and proclaims the largest Asian beer collection in St. Joseph.
WEBSTER'S at the RADISSON PLAZA. 100 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo. 269.343.3333. The classic dining room is a twelve-time AAA Four Diamond award winner for all the obvious reasons: a menu of fresh seafood, steaks, traditional fowl that changes, vegetables and meats, with an eye on the season and what's available from nearby vegetable and poultry farms. The cocktail and wine selections are extensive and excellent, and the servers pride themselves on communicating what's new as well as what's recommended. A display kitchen has been a recent addition to the ambience, and the restaurant is attached to a library lounge with a fireplace. Private dining rooms are available and can accommodate up to forty people. You can get a sumptuous, five- or six-course meal for about $50, or one or two courses and a glass of wine for half the price.
WHEATBERRY RESTAURANT & TAVERN. 15212 N Red Bud Tr, Buchanan. 269.697.0043. wheatberrytavern.com. Nestled on a bend of the slow-moving St. Joseph River just north of Buchanan-a town transforming into trendiness with its historic downtown filled with eclectic shops-the owners of the recently opened Wheatberry Restaurant & Tavern see their place as a gathering spot for lovers of regional American cuisine. "We cook everything from scratch," says Mike Hoyland, one of the restaurant's owners. Besides a dedication to using the best of local farms and food producers, there's also an emphasis on the smoked ribs, pork and chicken that come out of the large Southern Pride Smoker in the back of the restaurant. Other entrées include prime sliced sirloin topped with Wisconsin's wonderful Mindoro blue cheese, basil and toasted pine nut butter, as well as cedar-planked salmon and wood-roasted chicken Vesuvio. Soups, sandwiches, salads and killer hamburgers, thick and juicy and cooked to order, are also on the menu. Dessert specialties include Texas sheet cake-a dense, rich brownie-like cake-and Key lime pie.
WILD DOG GRILLE. 24 Center St, Douglas. 269.857.2519. thewilddoggrille.com. Sam Kendall, co-owner of the Wild Dog Grille, says their Italian-inspired cuisine, with a new-age twist, has been delighting the public ever since they opened their doors in June 2007. Start out with fresh spring rolls stuffed with crab meat and wrapped in a thin rice paper, or try the crab cake served with three dollops of Creole remoulade for a flavor enhancement. Another tasty option is the pesto spinach cheese dip served with flat breads fired fresh in the stone oven. Their trademark stone oven pizzas are fired in the best stone oven on the market for an old-world, thin-crust flavor. Fresh-cut steaks, such as the popular filet mignon and New York strip, are exceptional. Finish the meal with a vanilla panna cotta made from scratch from the chef's family recipe, the Oregon berry cobbler or a key lime tart. The restaurant has a liquor license, and the owners pride themselves on offering a laid-back atmosphere with the quality of high-end restaurants. Prices go up to $25.95 for the filet mignon, with most selections under $20.
ZAZIOS at the RADISSON PLAZA. 100 W Michigan Ave, Kalamazoo. 269.384.2650. zazios.com. This Italian bistro in busy downtown Kalamazoo has it all: a gourmet deli grocery is the passage into the energetically deco-designed bar and dining room, which glimpses the kitchen on one side. Lighting and acoustics are carefully managed, as well as the menu, which offers classic cuisine, seasonal specials and popular favorites-sophisticated, authentic entrée pizzas, hearty vegetable bean minestrone, a fresh mozzarella caprese salad and a housemade panna cotta chocolate torte filled with coconut cream. Complete beverage menu features trendy and classic choices. Entrées average $18
AMORÉ RISTORANTE AND 109 SUSHI & MARTINI LOUNGE. 109 Joliet St, Crown Point. 219.663.7377. amore109.com. The ultimate two-for-one, this sleek restaurant features Italian cuisine on its first floor at Amoré Ristorante and Japanese cuisine, including sushi and sashimi, upstairs at the 109 Sushi & Martini Lounge. But eating at one doesn't preclude ordering off the menu at the other as the food goes both ways-up and down the stairs. Carnivores will want to try the monster-sized 20- to 22-ounce bone-in rib eye steak, the 16-ounce Kansas City bone-in strip steak or the braised pork shank osso bucco. Seafood lovers get to order lobster in a myriad of ways, including in the sushi, bisque and linguini as well as the decadent twin 6-ounce lobster tails served with drawn butter. Other seafood favorites are the seafood risotto piled high with shrimp, scallops, mussels and more lobster and the peppercorn-encrusted fresh ahi tuna. Save room for bananas foster, crème brûlée and a quadruple assortment of cupcakes-chocolate, vanilla bean, black and white (swirled chocolate and vanilla) and red velvet topped with cream cheese frosting.
BARTLETT'S GOURMET GRILL & TAVERN. 131 E Dunes Hwy 12, Beverly Shores. 219.879.3081. eatatbartletts.com. Bartlett's is a new gourmet grill by husband-and-wife team Gary Sanders and Nicole Bissonnette-Sanders. Located in the heart of the National Lakeshore, Bartlett's has a cozy but very modern ambience. The menu is an exceptionally creative take on upscale roadhouse-type food. Starting off the meal are appetizers such as andouille sausage corndogs and surf & turf potstickers, as well as family style offerings like Low Country spiced boiled peanuts and smoked venison sticks. Entrées include 5-hour pot roast, whitefish fillet and linguine bolognese, ranging in price from $10 to $20. The wine list is modest but well-crafted.
BISTRO 157. 157 W Lincolnway, Valparaiso. 219.462.0992. bistro157.net. Trained in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu, chef and owner Nicole Bissonnette-Sanders has created a menu of classics-like a decadent sautéed veal and gulf shrimp, a pork rib chop with apple horseradish ham, and an herb-rubbed roasted half chicken-combined with her own creative takes on nouvelle cuisine with a number of fresh fish selections. Desserts include black chocolate-infused confections that have become standard for fine dining, and also sorbets and ice cream made from fresh fruit. There are some treasures on the extensive list of bottle wines, and many solid choices by the glass.
BON FEMME CAFE. 66 W Lincolnway, Valparaiso. 219.531.0612. bonfemme.com. The word "cafe" may be misleading for this full-service restaurant. While the emphasis is on daily fresh seafood and pasta selections, Chef Eddie Luick has created an extensive menu he calls "American food with a fresh accent." Set in a turn-of-the-century storefront in downtown historic Valparaiso, Bon Femme has an elegant but comfortable interior with a warm, inviting bar that's stocked with a variety of Scotches and other fine spirits. The musts on the menu include crab cakes and oyster Rockefeller, and the pork chop is in the running for the best in the area. Vegetarian items are found throughout the menu, and seafood specials make Bon Femme Café-which was voted Best Small Fine Dining Restaurant in Northwest Indiana-a destination.
BUTTERFINGERS. 2552 45th Street, Highland. 219.924.6464. 921 Ridge Rd #D, Munster. 219.836.4202. Every day, Butterfingers prepares a selection of ready-to-heat-and-eat entrées, along with freshly baked breads and salads, all without preservatives. The chicken almond salad has long been a crowd favorite, but the rest of the lunch menu is equally gratifying. What Butterfingers is best known for, however, is their famous desserts. The restaurant's two pastry chefs-whose training hails from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island-create an array of gourmet desserts, which includes beautifully decorated and delicious cakes (the double chocolate mousse cake is a must), and an assortment of cookies and brownies, all of which have been satisfying dessert lovers for more than twenty-five years. And to every party planner's delight, Butterfingers does offer catering.
CAFÉ ELITE. 231 W 7th St, Michigan City. 219.873.1788. cafeeliteandcatering.com. Casual sophistication on two levels describes the atmosphere with a clientele drawn from the surrounding areas, including Chicago and Southwest Michigan weekenders. Many are regulars who stop after shopping at the nearby Lighthouse Place mall. Executive Chef Mark Kolasa says that the most popular item on the menu is pretzel-encrusted chicken, and though the menu changes, that is an entrée that stays. Other favorites include Vietnamese wontons, and "we have the best baked brie anywhere," Mark says. Herb-encrusted whitefish, Chandler steak and bruschetta chicken pasta are dinner stars and there is a small, international list of selected wines. Desserts are baked on the premises by Amanda Kosek, who says orders for chocolate ganache cake are constant and year-round. The dessert menu is renewed frequently and Kosek makes ice cream and sorbet during the summer. (Classic vanilla and cherry are popular.) Reservations are recommended on weekends, especially in season. Average lunch costs $7; $15 to $18 per dinner.
CIAO BELLA. 1514 US 41, Schererville. 219.322.6800. ciaobellaonline.com. The cuisines of three different regions of Italy are featured at the newly opened Ciao Bella, a ristorante, pizzeria and wine bar. Patrons can sample a 12-inch gourmet pizza with a creative array of toppings like the Pizza Quattro Stagioni-tomatoes, artichokes, prosciutto and black olives-or the sauceless Pizza Al Fichi topped with goat cheese, figs and onions and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. For those who like more traditional pies, there are thin-crust options with toppings such as sausage, fresh garlic, salami and jalapeños. Or try such entries as Ciao Bella's signature dishes, Rigatoni Boscaiola-spicy Italian sausage and rigatoni noodles topped with a tomato cream sauce-and the Chicken Pollo Ala Romana, a chicken breast sautéed in a white wine sauce with roasted tri-color peppers and then sauced in a tomato cream. There's also a great selection of seafood, pork and beef. Desserts change frequently, but the tiramisu is always on the menu. The extensive wine list focuses on European and Californian wines. Delivery and take-out available.
DON QUIJOTE. 119 E Lincolnway, Valparaiso. 219.462.7976. donquijoterestaurantandimports.com. Proprietor Carlos Rivero's authentic Spanish cuisine, lively and friendly atmosphere, and conviviality with his return customers make this downtown Valparaiso restaurant a destination for Chicagoans and Michigan residents alike. The exciting menu features dozens of small courses, including a well-known classic paella with saffron rice and fresh-grilled seafood chunks. Grilled steaks and lamb and veal chops are abundant and cooked according to family recipes handed down for generations. The house specialty is a flan-textured vanilla cake. Lunch entrées average $15, dinner $25.
DUNELAND BEACH INN. 3311 Pottawattamie Tr, Stop 33, Michigan City. 800.423.7729. dunelandbeachinn.com. Duneland Beach Inn is nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood just outside of New Buffalo, Michigan. The newly remodeled circa-1924 Inn houses eight guest rooms as well as the superb restaurant, catering to loyal locals and Chicagoans. Begin your Duneland Beach evening by unwinding in the cozy bar with one of their signature ice-layered martinis, or select from an extensive wine list like none other in the region (prices range from $26-$336), or simply relax with a cold craft beer after a day at the beach. For dinner, choose the tranquil outdoor patio or the comfortable dining room. The dinner menu includes special chef’s features such as prime steaks, fresh fish and seafood, and seasonal cuisine. Culinary staff uses the freshest ingredients available for dishes like seared ahi tuna with soba noodle salad, veal chop Wellington, Maryland-style jumbo lump crab cakes, wasabi-coconut-encrusted Florida grouper, seafood risotto with black truffle oil, grass-fed filet of tenderloin, or a small plate designed for those with a lighter appetite. Looking for a casual dinner? Choose the best fresh burger in the area, tender smoky baby-back ribs, or the best fried chicken. For the total experience conclude the evening by reserving one of the restful, reinvigorating Jacuzzi suites with private bath and peek-a-boo shower in the inn.
GAMBA RISTORANTE. 455 E 84th Ave, Merrillville.219.736.5000. gambaristorante.com. The former owners of the Venezia Bar & Grill and Venezia Café, Benito and Hilda Gamba, have combined their efforts into the grand Gamba Ristorante. Located in Merrillville, this restaurant is housed in an architectural masterpiece, which is hard to miss with its circular design and copper roof. Modeled after upscale restaurants in exotic European locations, the menu offers classic Italian cuisine. The risotto alla Milanese features Arborio rice with saffron, "just like in Milan," and the wine room boasts storage space for 1,000 bottles. A banquet hall holds up to 200 people and looks out onto an open courtyard.
GAUCHO'S. 597 US Hwy 30, Valparaiso. 219.759.1100. gauchosvalpo.com. At Gaucho's, diners enjoy delicious and unique cuisine invented by the Gaucho cowboys of southern Brazil, who provided meats for the people of Brazil with their famous "Churrasco" barbecue. At Gaucho's, this centuries-old traditional feast is created tableside as servers bring such offerings as filet mignon wrapped in bacon, chicken parmesan, pork sausage, garlic-roasted turkey breast, merlot-marinated leg of lamb, and a variety of other meats, during Gaucho's traditional Brazilian-style dinner experience for $39.95. Seafood selections on Wednesday and Friday-just $29.95-include crab legs, shrimp, tilapia, perch, tuna, mahimahi, salmon and clam strips, or add the meat selections for $45.95. All dinners include a 35-item salad bar, Brazilian mashed potatoes, and fried bananas. The lunch menu offers a large selection of sandwiches and salads. Start or finish dinner in the Twisted Martini Lounge upstairs for cocktails, cigars and live entertainment in a modern, intimate setting.
GINO'S STEAK HOUSE. 1259 W Joliet St, Dyer. 219.865.3854. 600 E 81st Ave, Merrillville. 219.769.4466. ginossteakhouse.com. The chefs at Gino's, who have more than thirty years of combined experience, use only the freshest ingredients in their homestyle cuisine. Starters include traditional minestrone soup from a family recipe, salads with fresh, locally grown produce, and crusty bread with crocks of butter. The nine-ounce prime steak tops the menu and is itself topped with Roquefort cheese in its most popular rendition. All main dishes are served with the restaurant's signature marinated peppers, and entrées include fish and lobster delivered daily. The dessert menu features créme brûlée and various cheesecakes, but the housemade tiramisu is the highlight-a rich blend of coffee, chocolate and cream cheese flavors. A premium selection of wine, beer and cocktails is available at the full-service bar, and there is a special children's menu so the entire family can enjoy the dining experience.
GIORGETTI'S RESTAURANT & PIZZERIA. Washington Park in Michigan City. 219.809.4000. 28 N Elm St, Three Oaks, Mich. giorgettis.com. Expanding on its successful takeout and delivery-only pizzeria in New Buffalo, Giorgetti's has renovated the waterfront space that was, until recently, the Harbor Grill, at Washington Park's Yacht Club facility. "When we say we have fresh homemade lasagna, it means we made our own noodles," says general manager Steve Vargas, explaining the concept. "When we say fresh fish, that means we get the whole fish and cut the fillets ourselves." Using old family recipes, including one for pizza sauce that dates back half a century, the Michigan City restaurant not only serves the thin-crust pizzas which gained them such a following at their New Buffalo location, but they also offer an extended menu featuring Italian sandwiches with their housemade sausage and garden salads with romaine, tomato, green onion, black olives, Romano cheese and Italian dressing (made in house of course). Desserts change weekly but can include their killer tiramisu and chocolate chip cookies. Be sure to watch the sun set over the harbor while sipping a martini, a locally crafted beer, cocktails or a glass of wine on the outdoor patio that seats 75. There's live music at night during the summer. "We're family friendly," says Vargas, noting that their most expensive item is $12 for the lake perch.
GIOVANNI'S. 603 Ridge Rd, Munster. 219.836.6220. giosmunster.com. This classic upscale Italian bistro is a local favorite, with charm, gracious service and an extensive menu. Innovative selections include a variety of appetizers, and specials are paired with recommended wine by the glass. A crab cake salad with fresh mozzarella and Bibb lettuce is a staple for lunch, and all entrées are accompanied by hot and crusty garlic Parmesan cheese rolls. You can indulge in a traditional multi-course Italian dinner or order by the item. For lighter fare, soups, salads and pizzas are served with cheerful dispatch. Sumptuous dinners include a renowned Veal Scallopine Piccata, served in a white wine sauce, and scampi sautéed in garlic, lemon, thyme and butter. The wine list is extensive but educational, and the desserts range from classic tiramisu to real Italian gelato. Lunch entrées average about $12, while dinners cost $18 to $25.
GOOD TO GO BY LUCREZIA. 420 S Calumet Rd, Chesterton. 219.926.3866. goodtogobylucrezia.com. Shop the specials, such as a cheese selection of the month like Pecorino Romano, a grating cheese made from sheep's milk, so classic it was on the menu for legions of Ancient Rome; pick from two featured wines of exceptional value; taste specialty olive oils and aged vinegars; or pick up a boxed lunch or a signature sandwich to go. Featured on the deli menu: Tipperary Irish Cheddar Cheese, Boar's Head "Salsalito" Turkey and Marieke Foenegreek Gouda from Holland's Family Farm. Daily special sandwich $3.99.
HAMMER'S FOOD & DRINK. 2134 E US Hwy 20, Michigan City. 219.879.0760. Ken "The Hammer" Larson opened Hammer's Food & Drink in 1995 after graduating from Purdue University and completing his professional boxing career, the theme of which is displayed throughout the restaurant. Offering recipes that have been passed down through generations (his family owned the famous Red Lantern Inn Supper Club), the restaurant is quiet and elegant in atmosphere. The menu has a large number of choices, from traditional specialties to more modern adaptations. It includes hand-made pasta and pizza, steaks, lake perch and barbecued ribs. Highly recommended is the Italian beef. The average entrée ranges from $15 to $20.
HESTON SUPPER CLUB. Fail Road & CR 1000 North, LaPorte. 219.778.2938. hestonsupperclub.com. The Heston Supper Club is an experience in casual fine dining with traditional charm. The restaurant is best known for its specialty-award-winning, slow-roasted prime rib served with au jus and horseradish sauce made in-house. The menu also offers a variety of hand cut steaks, seafood and combination plates, along with some surprises like frog legs or battered asparagus. All entrées are served with homemade soup, salad and side in the supper club style. Balancing out the menu is an excellent wine list with more than 30 wines by the glass. Entrées average about $25.
JACK BINION'S STEAK HOUSE AT HORSESHOE CASINO. 777 Casino Center Dr, Hammond. 866.711.7027. horseshoehammond.com. The Horseshoe facility, a slice of Las Vegas on Lake Michigan, prides itself on customer service and consistently ranks first in every category, including fine dining. The tiered tables and luxurious booths at Jack Binion's overlook an expansive, panoramic lake view, where the impeccably attired waitstaff helps you choose between the Australian lobster, pan-seared sea scallops and rich thick filets that just make you wonder if Dr. Atkins would really be all right with this. Pick the decadent cheesecake for dessert if you want the best of everything. It is more fun, though, to opt for a post-dinner cocktail and go play. Entrées are $35 on average.
KELLY'S TABLE. 5727 N 600 W, Michigan City. 219.872.5624. kellyscreekwood.com. Tucked away amidst 30 acres of woodland, the Creekwood Inn, built in the 1930s as a second home, is a delightful spot for those wanting to get away. But you don't have to spend the night to enjoy a great repast at Kelly's Table, located inside the inn. It's here that chef/proprietor Patricia Kelly Molden creates a seasonal menu using the local bounty of the neighboring farms and orchards. Recent appetizer offerings include a rich Onion Soup Savoyarde with egg yolks and cream, topped with Gruyère toast as well as crabmeat and artichoke-stuffed mushrooms. Entrées range from the simple but delicious chicken tetrazzini to grilled cumin-crusted tuna with a mango habanero salsa, and rabbit braised in wine and served with summer vegetables. Fresh pumpkin custard-topped with whipped cream and flavored with Grand Marnier and crystallized ginger-and chocolate mousse served in chocolate tulip cups accompanied by a berry sauce are among Molden's to-die-for desserts. For cocktails, consider Kelly's Table Cosmopolitan: a delightful concoction of Absolut Citron, Triple Sec, Chambord, lime and cranberry or a capirinha made with Brazilian cachaça, fresh limes and turbinado sugar.
KELSEY'S STEAK HOUSE. 2300 US Highway 30, Valparaiso. 219.465.4022. 5630 US Hwy 6, Portage. 219.762.2242. kelseyssteakhouse.com. As fine a traditional steak house as any of the famous Midwest brands, this stalwart Indiana restaurant has built and maintained a first-rate reputation for a great meal at a fair price over many years. But in recent years, Kelsey's has expanded the menu in imaginative ways to include a range of choices such as rib bites, escargot and oysters Rockefeller. The meat comes in all cuts, sizes and ages; likewise, the seafood can be grilled, baked, pan-fried or broiled, and patrons are encouraged to add and subtract for custom combinations. Add lobster to your entrée for $20.95, shrimp or snow crab for $8.95, or lake perch for $7.95. Have your steaks any way you want, including encrusted in bleu cheese or sautéed "Kelsey-style," grilled in homemade garlic butter. Celebrations have to include a signature "Howie the Cow" cake savored along with a rich, aromatic cup of decaf or glass of California cabernet. A regular-cut filet is $25.95, and a King-cut prime rib is $19.95. The reasonably priced bestsellers all include potato, soup or salad. Kelsey's does not take reservations, but normally there is not a long wait.
LIGHTHOUSE RESTAURANT. 7501 Constitution Ave, Cedar Lake. 219.374.WAVE. cedarlakelighthouse.com. Stunning water views through floor-to-ceiling windows is perfect for sunset aficionados and is just one more reason to stop at this recently opened restaurant nestled on the eastern shoreline of Cedar Lake. Executive Chef Ken McRae draws upon his 25 years of culinary experience in creating a menu with such signature dishes as steaks-offered blackened or Cajun style upon request and served at a sizzling 500 degrees for the ultimate in flavor-plus lake perch and Chilean sea bass. For more casual fare, offerings include burgers, salads and pastas. There's an emphasis on local products from nearby farms and ice cream from Fair Oaks Dairy Farm. Bottles of wine are half price on No Whine Wednesdays.
LUCREZIA. 428 Calumet Rd, Chesterton. 219.926.5829. 302 S Main St, Crown Point. 219.661.5829. lucreziacafe.com. Lucrezia has been a Northern Italian favorite since owners Michael and Nada Karas first opened it in the mid-nineties, in a historic downtown Chesterton building. Several years later, the couple renovated the William Barringer Brown Mansion just off the downtown square in Crown Point, continuing their fine dining tradition. (In fact, Lucrezia won a 2006 and 2008 ROSE Award for "Putting Porter County on the Map.") Signature dishes include chicken Vesuvio—slow cooked chicken served in a rosemary garlic sauce with roasted potatoes and fresh vegetables—and roasted lamb shank braised in its own juices accompanied by roasted potatoes and braised red cabbage. Specials include veal medallions with mustard and mushrooms topped with a roasted brandy cream sauce. Not to be missed is the zuccotto, a sinful domed-shaped chocolate sponge cake filled with white chocolate mousse and pistachios and sauced with both chocolate and raspberry. Lunch entrées average $20, dinner $30.
OLD STYLE INN. 5 Lincolnway, Valparaiso. 219.462.5600. oldstyleinn.com Established in 1932, Old Style Inn is a classic college town restaurant bar with friendly atmosphere and service, a good mix of regulars, students and teachers and out-of-town visitors trying to catch the flavor of the quaint epicenter of Porter County. This is the place to indulge that craving for prime rib, filets and seafood. A lunch with an appetizer and beverage is $8-$12, but you will probably not spend more than $15 on a complete and substantial dinner. No extra charge for the local atmosphere and gossipy political conversation. Catering is also available.
PASS TIMES. 175 E Lincolnway, Ste B, Valparaiso. 219.462.3786. Located across the street from City Hall in downtown Valparaiso, you may have trouble finding this classic upscale tavern the first time, but after that you will be like the many regulars who come in weekdays for the comfort food and stay in the evening for the large selection of unique beers from all around the world (and there's a full bar). There are no traditional menus, just a selection of specials posted on overhead boards that change according to what people like, what's fresh and what's available. Some favorites include smothered chicken and Italian beef sandwiches. Location makes this a favorite spot for attorneys and people connected with VU Law School, so you could get into a debate-but it won't be about the reasonably priced food. The average lunch price is under $10, and if you have a couple of drinks with dinner, you will still find it difficult to spend more than $20.
PIKK'S TAVERN. 62 W Lincolnway, Valparaiso. 219.476.7455. pikkstavern.com. The tavern identification in this case is used British-style to denote a community-neighborhood-family place with amply portioned, upscale comfort food like a hearty seafood chowder, a 10-ounce sirloin burger, Cajun fried shrimp po' boy on a French roll, and an amazing list of brunch items, including a traditional apple pancake, crab cakes Benedict, prime rib hash, and a pepper and egg sandwich served on a baguette. The signature breakfast burger (7 ounces) is served on a buttermilk biscuit bun with cheese and hash browns. The fine-dining details like sensational seafood and steaks, fifteen housemade dipping sauces-roasted red pepper mayo, coconut chile, bernaise, chimichurri, wasabi and Berber barbecue, for instance-and martinis shaken table-side have drawn attention as well. This latest hot spot has not forgotten the traditions of its classy cousin Vinci on Chicago's near north side and has the plank salmon, chicken alfredo and Vinci's penne to prove it. Wine and microbrew lists round out the menu. A very substantial lunch or brunch will cost about $20, and a complete dinner will cost an average of $30.
PORTOFINO GRILL at BRIAR LEAF GOLF CLUB. 3233 N State Rd 39, LaPorte. 219.325.8541. portofinogrill.biz. Set on a golf course at the edge of what used to be a rural area, the dining room has a year-round view of a tranquil, grassy knoll. Lunch staples have been developed into an art form here with numerous salads featuring chicken, beef, nuts and berries, corn and beans, and other lively seasonal vegetables. Other items include a stellar rendition of the classic Reuben sandwich with Russian dressing, hearty soups and chili, and fresh fish in season. Interesting food and drink specials are available, as well as a too-tempting host of desserts. Lunch entrées average $10, and dinner is $15.
RODIZIO'S ARGENTINE and BRAZILIAN STEAKHOUSE at MEYER'S CASTLE. 1370 Joliet St, Dyer. 219.865.8452. For the past eight years, proprietor Sergio Urquiza has been serving South American style dinners-featuring grilled meats served by waiters carrying punals or cooking swords-in a lively atmosphere situated in a castle building overlooking 10 acres of woods and gardens. Wine and cocktails are available and relaxing, but there is no official menu, just a $32.50 fixed price per person that buys a great quantity of high-quality food and of course the show. Hot empanadas, meat pies served with a chimichurri sauce, are served first as a prelude to the start of the main feast. The next course is your choice of more than fifty hot and cold selections on display at a tapas/salad bar, where selections include barbecue chicken wings, fish ceviche, cold meat and seafood items, casseroles and savories. Pasta with sauce and hot loaves of bread are delivered to the table prior to the arrival of the sword-bearing meat and chicken servers, who hand-carve each slice of steak, pork loin, sausage or chicken, just off the grill and piping hot. Accompanying the meat are skewers of grilled vegetables and potatoes. The meat, which you can order to your preferred level of done-ness, will continue to come until you signal the waiter that you have had enough. If you have saved room for desserts, there are few, but the limited selection is great, including a black chocolate cake and crème brûlée cheesecake ($6.75). The wine list exceeds expectations with a number of popular selections available by the glass. Reservations are recommended, but there is a full bar and lounge, which frequently hosts live entertainment on the weekends.
SAHARA. 1701 Franklin St, Michigan City. 219.871.1223. sahara-restaurant.net. A cozy, casual bistro serving Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine in downtown Michigan City, the menu at Sahara reflects the traditional dishes of owner Moe Mroueh's homeland. "I like to cook what I grew up eating," says Mroueh, who isn't afraid to add a defining touch to classics as he does with such menu items as feta-stuffed dates in a pomegranate reduction sauce, a cucumber Napoleon-slices of cucumber topped with housemade hummus and feta-and a Greek Isle Salad with the usual toppings of cucumbers, onions and feta with an added flourish of gyro meat. Those who want to graze can order one of the combination plates. Patrons are encouraged to linger and enjoy the music with a cold beer or glass of wine.
STOP 50 WOOD FIRED PIZZERIA. 500 S El Portal, Michigan City. 219.879.8777. stop50woodfiredpizzeria.com. Just north of US Hwy 12 and west of New Buffalo, this café enjoys a well-deserved reputation-including being named one of the top four pizzerias in the Midwest by Rachael Ray magazine-for authentic Italian pizza baked "Naples-style" in wood-fired hearth ovens. Customers return again and again-it's only difficult to find the first time. The recipes are traditional, and the ingredients are fresh daily. In addition to the Napoletana pizza, sandwiches and salads are available to eat at Stop 50, or you can get your snack or meal to go. Try the banana peppers stuffed with house-made sausage or a fiery tomato and goat cheese dip with hand-cut fried chips. Owners Chris and Kristy Bardol, who rehabbed the 50-year-old beach community grocery store into a restaurant, stick to strictly locally grown food. Average entrée cost is $15, but you can make a satisfying light meal out of the generously proportioned starters at $8-$12. The Bardols also own SodaDog, the menu of which includes authentic hot dogs and sausages and micro-crafted soda, all served via carhop service. SodaDog is located at 171 Hwy 212 in Michigan City.
STRONGBOW INN. 2405 E US 30, Valparaiso. 800.462.5121. strongbowinn.com. The menu at this classic institution still includes a wide variety of turkey selections, but with daily specials that include barbecued pork ribs, seafood choices, prime rib and other comfort foods, one would never guess that the bakery and restaurant started as a sandwich stand during the Depression. Many families have had Thanksgiving catered by Strongbow-the meticulously prepared traditional meal that can be ordered as take-out is virtually indistinguishable from that produced by a family team working in the kitchen for ten hours. Also, the bakery has exploded with a range of treats created daily, including cinnamon rolls, cakes, pies, brownies, fruit tarts, truffles, crème brûlée and strawberry napoleons. Lunch entrées average $8, and dinner is $18.
SVAGO RISTORANTE. 1103 Joliet Rd, Dyer. 219.322.7305. svagoristorante.com. Svago owner Leslie Dianda and executive chef Tony Sanfilippo are committed to carrying out the traditions of their families. Leslie's grandfather was a baker in Chicago. "I'm third generation in the restaurant business," says Sanfilippo, noting that his father was a master sommelier and that his grandfather not only ran a restaurant in Palermo, Italy, but also grew grapes and made his own wine. Taking the recipes used by their ancestors, Sanfilippo and Dianda want to create the ultimate ristorante, one where people come for good times, good service and good food. That's why the food at Svago, which means entertainment in Italian, focuses on slowly braised foods, long simmered sauces and great salads and soups. For those who want a quick bite or simpler fare, there's the café in front which features sandwiches and is also a place to sip coffee and enjoy a sweet. "Tradition is very important to both Leslie and me," says Sanfilippo. "And that's what we hope to create here as well."
SWINGBELLY'S. 100 Washington St, Michigan City. 219.874.5718. swingbellys.org. When the weather's right, enjoy outdoor dining and views of Lake Michigan at this family restaurant, a staple of downtown Michigan City since the Werner family opened its doors in 1983. Located near Washington Park, the nautically themed Swingbelly's (check out the hammerhead shark, life rings and sailfish mounted on the walls) is housed in a historic train depot. Even if the weather is dreary, the views from inside the restaurant are still great and the ambience of times gone by just adds to its charm. The menu hosts a variety of options, including the Belly Buster-one half pound of hand-pattied beef chargrilled and topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese, mushrooms, green olives, onion and bacon; or the Lake Avenue Roast Beef-turkey, provolone, lettuce, tomato and Thousand Island dressing on rye. There are dinners as well, including the popular deep-fried lake perch and rib eye steaks. Prices are reasonable; all dinners are under $20. The Kid's Corner menu offers, among other items, hot dogs or popcorn chicken accompanied with sides such as onion rings or fruit cup for only $4.75. There's beer on tap and in the bottle as well as a limited wine selection.
T-BONES PIER 11. 1111 Lakeside, LaPorte. 219.362.5077. pleastshore.com. This Italian steakhouse is carefully tucked into a cove of scenic Pine Lake, the newer of the two restaurants that are traditionally very popular with guests at the inn as well as the summer folks who make LaPorte a home away from home. The spacious dining room is reminiscent of a traditional supper club, but a terrace overlooks the harbor and instead of being at a roadhouse, you are on the beach. As expected, the seafood hits a high standard; some of the recommended starters ($9) are sautéed blue crab and shrimp cakes, plump snails baked with Pernod garlic butter, oversized shrimp served martini-style, and deep-fried calamari and mussels steamed in white wine. A range of salads, pizzas and pasta selections ($10) round out the lighter supper fare, but if boating, water-skiing and swimming make you hungry, this is the place to indulge in a T-bone, New York strip, filet mignon or flat iron steak grilled over a wood fire. Choice of sauces include Gorgonzola cheese, whiskey peppercorn, wild mushroom brandy or blueberry port. Likewise, the fish selections-which can be grilled or sautéed-include scallops, red snapper, salmon, swordfish, mahi mahi, walleye and even a lobster tail that can be served with lemon dill butter, warm mango chutney or tomato garlic sauce. If you prefer ordering house specialties you can pick from sautéed beef medallions, duck breast, Chicken Roman, Chicken Saltimbocca, pan-seared Veal Limone or a slow-cooked Italian pot roast. (Average price $15.) A light dinner will probably cost under $20 and a complete 4-to-6 courses will vary from $25 to $35.
TEQUILA RESTAURANTE. 110 S Main St, Crown Point. 219.661.8226. tequilarestaurante.com. Striving to exceed any and all expectations of a typical Mexican restaurant, Tequila Restaurante offers a revolving menu that pairs fresh, seasonal offerings with the staff's longtime traditional family recipes prepared in a scratch producing, labor-intense kitchen. Hearty plates are delivered to white linen, flower and candle adorned tables by devoted professionals. There's something for everyone, starting with tableside guacamole, hand-cut carne asada, a build-your-own-plate of tacos, tostadas, sopes, enchiladas, tamales and flautas, as well as fresh ahi, mahi mahi, and sea bass tacos, to 21-day aged filets, one-pound pork chops and bone-in rib eyes. The seasonal cocktail selection boasts scratch-made 21-ounce margaritas and house drinks as well as a boutique of perfectly paired wines. Established in 2009, Tequila Restaurante takes great pride in its current "on the square" location, offering a one-of-a-kind "Mexperience" in its eclectic social dining room (children's menu available), tequila cantina (21 and over) or outdoor seating (weather permitting). Reservations strongly suggested.
THEO'S STEAK & SEAFOOD. 9144 Indianapolis Blvd, Highland. 219.838.8000. firstname.lastname@example.org. A classic steak and seafood house, Theo's also offers a great selection of chicken, pasta and veal dishes as well as such timeless culinary favorites as shrimp de jonghe, steak Diane, veal Oscar and oysters Rockefeller. Helping round out the menu are several Greek favorites such as saganaki (Greek cheese doused with brandy and flambéed tableside), a Greek country salad piled high with kalamati olives, feta, tomatoes and more, and grilled lamb chops marinated in kalamati olive oil and seasoned with oregano, garlic and lemon. For dessert, disregard the calories and go with the Death by Chocolate, layers of chocolate cake with a decadent mousse filling.
WILLIAM B'S STEAKHOUSE at BLUE CHIP CASINO, HOTEL & SPA. 777 Blue Chip Drive, Michigan City. 888.879.7711 ext 2118. bluechip-casino.com. Named after Boyd Gaming Corporation's Executive Chairman William S. Boyd, William B's is a world-class steakhouse in the tradition of the former Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. Executive Chef Rudy Paniuagua advises that you should not over-grill a great steak: "The flavor of the meat and the marbling should speak for themselves." Ribeyes, T-bones, filets and porterhouse are the centerpiece of the menu—and all the little extras are available, including creamy horseradish, sautéed onions and mushrooms, and au poivre sauce with shallots, butter, cracked peppercorns and cognac—but you will also find fresh seafood and exquisite pasta dishes, prepared in-house. There is a complete cocktail menu (the traditional martinis are excellent), as well as a five-star wine list and complete appetizer and dessert selections. The average cost of dinner is $50, and reservations are highly recommended.
GIBSON'S STEAKHOUSE. 1028 N Rush St, Chicago. 312.266.8999. gibsonssteakhouse.com. The traditional fresh seafood and aged steak restaurant's reputation for quality and service never varies, and the clientele is often as famous as the food. If you are going to have a martini once in your life, the front-room bar would be the right place. (You can also select food from a special bar menu or the dinner menu.) The same can be said for the mammoth portions of layer cake or à la mode desserts that are as daunting visually as they are gastronomically. Start the diet tomorrow, live like a rock star today-you can even choose which rock star from the autographed photos plastered all over the staircase walls. Though the Rush Street location is the flagship and standard bearer, there is another Gibson's in Rosemont and related hotspots next door (Hugo's Frog Bar) and a couple of blocks away at RL (Ralph Lauren), where a similar menu is the staple. Reservations are a must, unless you want to hang out in the crowd, which is plenty of fun too. The array of choices for wine and cocktails is dizzying and so are the portions; be prepared. Entrées average about $35, but you can go much higher. Be prepared to valet park-it just makes sense.
SMITH & WOLLENSKY. 318 N State St, Chicago. 312.670.9900. smithandwollensky.com. This big-city steakhouse is the most independent-minded, high-quality chain on the planet. Perched overlooking the Chicago River at Marina City, its turn-of-the-century persona with exterior lattice-work trim and interior polished wood floors and brass accessories is a welcome contrast to its futuristic home. The menu is as solid and dependable as jewelry from Tiffany's or a Brooks Brothers suit. The menu includes simply grilled seafood and porterhouse for two when available. There are three 10-ounce lobster tails to choose from-South African, Tristan Island and Australian. Try not to miss the famous split-pea soup, although, as expected, it's rich. Full dinners start at $25 and go up. Even though there are 450 tables and booths, reservations are strongly recommended.
BALAGIO RISTORANTE. 17501 Dixie Hwy, Homewood. 708.957.1650. balagio-restaurant.com. Now in a new location, this popular Italian restaurant has changed its menu offerings, with many entrée prices now under $12.95. Some of the specialties created by chef/owner Mike Galderio include chicken scaloppini-thin breast cutlets quickly sautéed with white wine-Italian sausage and roasted red peppers served with braised escarole, and a salmon club sandwich with broiled salmon, crisp bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato. There are also Galderio traditional family recipes like the chopped salad with chicken, salami and hearts of palm, housemade marinara sauce and spaghetti and meatballs. There's an extensive wine list as well as live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings. Private dining is available for any group from 10 to 200, either family style or custom designed.
GLENWOOD OAKS RIB & CHOP HOUSE. 106 N Main St, Glenwood. 708.758.4400. glenwoodoaks.com. The Jarosky family has been serving a solid menu of steaks, chops, fresh seafood and vegetables for a generation, with specials that reflect newly popular items or vegetables in season. But the clientele returns again and again for the staples, which include Angus steaks and chops, sautéed fresh lake perch, oysters Rockefeller done à la Isabelle, and salads of crunchy iceberg lettuce with house dressing. Armadillo eggs-fresh jalapeño peppers stuffed with cheddar, fried and served with salsa and sour cream-are the ultimate in comfort food. Dinner entrées average $20; lunch entrées run in the $12 range.
JENNY'S STEAKHOUSE. 20 Kansas St, Frankfort. 815.464.2685. 11041 S Menard Ave, Chicago Ridge. 708.229.2272. jennyssteakhouse.com. The Courtright family has an impressive history and credentials in the culinary world of South Chicago and the nearby suburbs, and the Frankfort location is just the most recent addition to the roster. The menu has scores of familiar and comforting staples like classic chicken Parmesan and a legendary Gambriliano Italiano with sautéed sausage, chicken breast, Vesuvio potatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and white wine over fettuccini. The signature steak is an 8-ounce filet with garlic and bleu cheese, and you can have it with Jack Daniels sauce for an extra $2.50. Meals always include soup, potato, vegetable, bread and bruschetta, and the wine list is impressive and right on. Soup, early-bird and homemade specials change daily-Monday, for instance, you can get split pea soup, pot roast with potato pancakes, and Mama's meatloaf-but even the regular selections are imaginative. Where else can you get a bottle of Dom Perignon with two surf-and-turf dinners for $235? Jenny's will even text you drink special information-all you have to do is register. Prices average less than $10 for appetizers, soups, salads, wraps and sandwiches on the lunch menu, and the median price for steak is $20. Most other entrées come in at somewhat less; the sea scallops are $16.95, for instance. An 8- to 9-ounce prime rib at $10.95, a half slab of ribs at $9.95, and braised ox tails at $8.95 are just a few of the bargains on the early-bird menu.
THE PICKWICK SOCIETY TEAROOM. 122 Kansas St, Frankfort. 815.806.8140. pickwicktearoom.com. Food and beverages are part of the experience in this charming and comfortable shop/bakery/restaurant, whether you are browsing antiques or just stopping for a minute as you work your way through the fascinating downtown historic community. But the tea is definitely special; Pickwick serves only Octavia Whole Leaf Tea, and a never-ending pot for two costs $5.50. The selections are wide-ranging, including black, oolong, green, white, herbal and every flavor from English breakfast to Rooibos & Roses. A thoughtful menu has a dozen luncheon combinations with salads, sandwiches, cheese plate, quiche, fruit and vegetables, and garnishes averaging about $7. Sides include green salad, fruit salad and soup. Pastries, breads and cookies can be combined or consumed individually. A popular choice is a scone with clotted cream and jam for $2.75. Choose from two dozen kinds of finger sandwiches such as ham and pineapple spread on a corn muffin, spinach and cheese on a filo triangle, or fig merlot spread with cream cheese on white. A dozen breads include chocolate tea and 14 kinds of homemade scones. Cookies- including madeleines, carrot oatmeal raisin, or cranberry hazelnut shortbread-are $.75 apiece or $8 per dozen.
SIAM MARINA THAI CUISINE. 80 River Oaks Center, Calumet City. 708.862.3438. 1669 Sibley Blvd, Calumet City. 708.868.0560. Chef-proprietor Tammy Pham has evolved into a legend for her mastery of a full men with dozens of vegetarian options as well as traditionally spiced and marinated poultry dishes. The spring rolls and peanut sauce are prepared in-house daily, along with special soups. The authentic pad Thai has a loyal following, and fresh coconut works in many of the dishes, including dessert. A multi-course lunch averages $12, dinner $15.