Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For beer lovers: Barley House in Algonquin

During my undergraduate years in central Illinois, I thought trying to complete a 110-beer "World Tour" at a local bar and grill was challenge enough.

I found out Tuesday night that I was dead wrong.

Anyone with an eclectic taste in beer – or others willing to try new brews at a cheap price by Chicago standards – may find home in one of the many bar stools at Barley House in Algonquin. That's because it offers nearly 250 different beers spanning the globe.

Barley House, 1520 S. Randall Rd., was recently opened this month by local restaurateurs in place of the former Claddagh Irish Pub. After some remodeling and the addition of a hefty drink menu (more like a map), patrons seem pleased as they sip their cocktails and brews next to a fireplace or flat-screen TV.

At Barley House, rarities and new choices are abundant, as well as the drink specials for January and February. We stopped by on a Tuesday, when all micro pints (sans "Delirium") were $3 – a repeating discount on Thursdays. There's also a "beer nerd" club, where members receive 25 percent off beer purchases on Wednesdays.

Aside from the mind-boggling amount of drafts, bottles, hard ciders and wines, Barley House vibes a cozy, upscale atmosphere. They certainly don't serve most of the typical bar fare, but instead a large variety of food of a finer note. Appetizers range from coconut onion rings to steamed oysters, while entrees feature "The Best Chicken Sandwich Ever" to filet mignon.

And every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., diners can eat all they can of salad, soup and artisan bread for $7.50. On Mondays, the "Flip for your Food" special is as simple as it sounds. Your server returns the check with a coin, you pick a side and he or she flips once for every entree on your order. If you're lucky, you'll get half-off every entree every time you're right.

But despite all the good deals, I don't think we'll be returning to Barley House for the food. Our choices – an Ahi steak sandwich and a seafood stew – were fancy and fun but not entirely satisfying, taste-wise. But the great service and tasty beers made up for that tiny glitch, ten-fold. For that, we'll be sure to stop by again soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Little Owl, Geneva

On Saturday evening the husband and I met two friends of ours at The Little Owl, located at 101 W. State St. (Route 38) in Geneva.

It's a historic bar and restaurant, with lots of dark wood and American food including burgers, chicken, lots of fish options, and your standard bar staples.

The bar options looked pretty good, too, and I was tempted by the martini menu, but decided to stick to food. They brought out a bread basket full of a small loaf of sliced bread, garlic toast rounds, and crackers. We shared cheese nuggets as an appetizer, which is every bit as bad for you as it sounds, but in a delicious way.

I had fish and chips, substituting the chips for their "sour cream and chive sticks", which turned out to be french fries coated in a ranch-dressing-like powder before frying -- which was pretty tasty. The fish was nicely fried, though some of it did come out in a chunk away from the batter. My husband had a chicken wings basket, which he reports were very meaty with a delicious batter.

Our friends had a fish-wich and an Italian beef sandwich with mashed potatoes, and reported that those were good as well.

I do have one small complaint: our waitress was a little flighty and took a while to take our orders; after she brought the appetizer out we had to actually tell her we were ready to order. The check also took awhile to come, although she did keep our drinks refilled nicely and took our credit cards promptly.

Prices were pretty good, although portions were not huge, but I was nicely full and not stuffed when we were done.

While there are a huge variety of restaurants in downtown Geneva, I think the Little Owl is a good option if you want a cozy tavern-y sort of place, with solid comfort food, drinks, and a place to sit and talk with friends.

Friday, January 16, 2009

State of the blog


I've been thinking about this blog lately and where it is and where I want it to be. For the most part, I'm pleased. What started as an experiment in writing about cool things in the Chicago suburbs has gained two more writers and an audience - albeit a smallish one - which is great! I'm indebted to Another Suburbanite for really helping me kickstart things, and glad to have The Juice Box on board for more content and input.

What I haven't been doing much of lately is writing about things besides restaurant reviews and the odd store or spa. Which I'm going to blame on a few things: the recent holidays (busy, busy) and the weather - because really, who wants to go exploring when it's 17 below out there?!

But as the weather warms up I'm hoping to get back out there. To write about festivals and parks and ice cream parlors and more.

I also want to encourage my audience to give us feedback. Recommend places for us to try -- we live in McHenry, northwest Cook and DuPage counties and often travel through Lake and Kane for work or life, so if there's someplace in your neck of the woods you're curious about -- or that you've tried and think is great -- pass it on! Alternatively, if someone wants to submit a single review (or even several) without joining the team, just drop me a line. My blog-related e-mail is easy: suburbanawesome [at]

In the end, I want this blog to be useful, fun, and for the people who read it. I welcome all manner of feedback, questions, comments, whatever!

Thanks, and keep reading and rockin' the suburbs!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On the Border ... of authentic

Hi, Rockin' the Suburbs readers.

Before I get into my mini-review of the On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina in Algonquin, let me introduce myself.

My online alias is The Juice Box and I found my way here through the amazing online network of Twenty Something Bloggers. After checking out this blog and enjoying its content and theme of helping Chicago suburbanites find things to do around town, I was happily given the approval stamp of becoming a new contributor.

A little about me: I'm in my 20s, live in McHenry County and grew up in Cook. I've been around the suburbs a minute or two, but don't define myself by them. I eat my hot dogs Chicago style -- absolutely no ketchup! I enjoy getting out to local places to check out new movies, restaurants, bars and all other entertainment spots in between.

So without ado, my first review.

After craving margaritas and bottomless chips and salsa, the boyfriend and I decided to head over to On the Border in Algonquin tonight. And when we got there, we were pleasantly surprised.

We were expecting something along the lines of Chili's (sub-par food, brightly colored trinkets on the walls, chipped tiled booths), and though we caught a whiff of corporate flair, this spot was "on the border" of authentic.

As soon as we sat down to our table, our server Matt was extremely courteous and joked around with us. Granted, the place was dead, but he was spot on with helping us out with menu options and keeping our giant margarita and Dos XX tumblers full.

A single bottomless chip was about the size of a half hard-shell taco, and dipped in a spicy tequila lime salsa, tasted crisp with just the right amount of salt. We enjoyed looking around the place while we munched and waited on our meal, too. A nice ambience, despite some heavy Menudo playing in the background. Can't remember the last time I sang along absentmindedly to Ricky Martin and actually enjoyed it (shh, don't tell anyone).

Our orders came up quickly. I chose the Dos XX fish tacos. For $9.99, I got three hefty portions of beer-battered fish wrapped in a soft tortilla stuffed with cabbage lettuce, pico de gallo and a chile cream sauce. Rice and beans on the side. The whole meal tasted fresh and didn't need seasoning; plus, I could really specifically taste the Dos XX on the fish.

The boyfriend chose the endless enchiladas special, where, you guessed it -- endless enchiladas of the beef, chicken or cheese variety and a side of rice and beans were served for $8.99. He only lasted for four, but our server noted that the record there was 26. Yikes. Although the enchiladas were tasty enough, I've had better at smaller, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants. Maybe it's something in the water.

Overall, we had an enjoyable experience and plan to go back again soon to try out all the other enticing stuff on the menu. They have a great "create your own" section for burritos and fajitas, all down to specific details so you can come up with nearly 100 different combination possibilities.

The prices are also decent, especially for drinks: $4.25 for a large 22 oz. house (strong) margarita, and $3.25 for Dos XX on draft in the same size. They have about a dozen different Mexican imports available in bottles, and also another "create your own" menu for premium margaritas that I'd put to good use.

The bar and grill also has Chicago-area locations in St. Charles and Vernon Hills, so if you're not near Algonquin, you can plan an outing at one of the others.

Looking for something quick to satisfy your cravings for Mexican food and drink? Your next trip should be to On the Border.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Entourage Salon & Spa, Elmhurst

A different sort of review today than we've been doing, although I would like to note that this is intended to be for all sorts of places around the suburbs and not just restaurants!

Today I redeemed a gift card that was a Christmas present from my dear husband: enough for a massage at Entourage Salon and Spa in Elmhurst. It's at 111 Second St. (in the City Centre) and on the web at

I'd been in want of a good massage for quite awhile, and let me tell you, Entourage got the job done.

My massage therapist was Mary Ann, a cheerful woman in scrubs who had a sort of mom/aunt vibe about her. She asked me a few questions about where my tension was, what I did or didn't want, that sort of thing. Then I was shown into the massage room to undress and left.

The room was nicely appointed but simple, with hooks for my clothes, wood-paneled walls and dim lighting. There was soft nature-sounds music playing, enough to set a relaxing mood and drown out any sounds from the salon.

Mary Ann did a wonderful job, asking for feedback on pressure and a few other things but largely working quietly to let me enjoy. And I did. The tension in my neck and shoulders is gone and when she was done I lay there blissfully, wanting either a nap or more massage.

The salon itself is very nice, with lots of light and comfy chairs and a cool transparent waterfall behind the front desk.

While I certainly can't afford to indulge every month, I think I will be returning to Entourage for a massage... and maybe a haircut or pedicure now and then!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Christy's Restaurant & Pancake House, Wood Dale

Christy's Restaurant and Pancake House ... the name pretty much says it all. Located at 200 E Irving Park Rd. in Wood Dale (basically in front of the Metra station), this Greek diner/pancake house has something for everyone.

They serve breakfast all day, as well as an extensive lunch and dinner menu. Because we live so close to Christy's, I have now been there twice, once for breakfast and once for dinner.

It is a small, cheerfully crowded place where the waitresses are both friendly and sarcastic and you can tell they have a lot of regulars.

The food is not out of the ordinary, but it is tasty, and there is a lot of it for the price. For breakfast, for instance, I got a spinach and feta omelet that was HUGE and came with sesame toast and hashbrowns. I took half the omelet home. My husband had a bacon waffle (the man never turns down bacon) and was quite pleased; the friend we were with enjoyed her pancakes immensely.

(I must say that I was a teeeeny bit disappointed in the hashbrowns -- they were quite dry and lacked onion. In my opinion, the best hashbrowns are a bit greasy and have onion with them.)

When we returned for dinner, my husband had a frankencheese (a hot dog wrapped in cheese and bacon ... what did I say?) and I had a gyros sandwich. Both came with soup and fries, and we were given a bread basket when we sat down. Combine that with the appetizer we shared and I again took most of my actual meal home. The gyros meat was delicious, nicely cut and tender with tons of flavor. The fries were tasty too. My chicken noodle soup hit the spot; my husband said his black bean soup was yummy.

Christy's is not gourmet, it is not expensive, and it is not fancy. What it is is good food, done right. Exactly what you want in a diner/breakfast place. I should also note that the service we had both times was very good. And even if a restaurant is only above average, good service will keep us coming back.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Blu Razz in South Elgin

A few days ago, I met up with a couple friends for martinis at Blu Razz (558 Randall Rd) in South Elgin.  It was a weeknight so the place was quite empty for 9:30 pm. 

We sat in a huge corner booth and took in the trendy atmosphere. A sleek bar, fish tanks with Grey Goose bottles in them, and low lighting made me feel like I should've put heels on. Our waitress lit a candle on our table and give us the drink menu.  The martini selection is overwhelming! They also have quite the selection of mixed drinks and beers, but it was a girls' night out so we opted for martinis.  All martinis are $8 and they have just about any combination of flavors you can imagine. I ordered the Blu Lemonsicle: Blu Razz vodka, Bacardi Limon, razzberry liqueur, and lemonade. It was strong and more raspberry than lemon flavored, but I liked it enough. My second martini was the Milky Way and that was a treat. It is made with vanilla vodka, chocolate liqueur, and Irish cream and the glass is drizzled with chocolate.

Our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable. There was only one downside of our evening at Blu Razz. On the door, they advertise being open until 1am weeknights. However, it was obvious they were trying to close around 11:30pm. The lights came on, the music stopped, and last call was called around 11:00. It was slightly rude and we wrapped up our chit chat and left, though we probably could have used another hour!

All in all, Blu Razz seems to be a suburban hotspot for weekends, but don't try to enjoy your day off by staying late during the week! The martini selection is great and I'd definitely go back.