2018 will likely go down as a difficult year for the United States, but, very fortunately, those difficulties were not evident in the restaurants and other dining establishments in and around Kendall County. Quite the contrary; with all the hubbub about trade wars, border security and other serious issues, your Mystery Diner feels fortunate to have found many a tasty meal along with some shelter from the storm of the outside world at area eateries over the past 12 months.
Now, before we get too far into the new year, I thought it would be an opportune time to look back at the restaurants that proved the most popular among you, our readers, based on the number of page views or “clicks” they received on our website at KendallCountyNow.com in 2018:
Town Square Park, 201 N. Bridge St. (Route 47)
Jeff Hahn is a teacher at Cross Lutheran School in Yorkville, but during the summer and on occasional weekends during the school year for more than 25 years, he slings hot dogs and brats from his Home Plate Hot Dogs cart in Town Square Park. On most afternoons during the summer, there is a generous crowd patiently waiting in line for a dog or a bratwurst, served up to the customer’s liking. Catch Jeff on an afternoon where the crowd is light, and he’ll chat with customers about the various goings-on in the community. Remember, like a bartender or a barber, when you’re the hot dog guy, you know all the town gossip.
4542 Route 71, Oswego
Soul food is a difficult cuisine to describe and, out here in the exurbs, it’s even more difficult to find. The Kiss My Dish Soul Food Kitchen opened in November 2017 and has since attracted crowds and great reviews. From traditional favorites like catfish bites, fried green tomatoes and shrimp ‘n’ grits, to selections you don’t expect to find in a soul food restaurant, like the Polish sausage, the menu is packed with variety. I rarely order fried chicken at restaurants, mostly because it’s so easy to get bad fried chicken – it’s dry or it’s too greasy or there isn’t any flavor. But I took a chance on Kiss My Dish’s “Golden Fried Chicken.” It was a fried half chicken with two sides. I picked their baked mac and cheese and red beans and rice. It was a good deal at $15 and, truly, a meal I will long remember.
12 W. Main Street, Plano
If there were any justice in the world, people would be lined up for blocks outside of Ivana’s Cafe in downtown Plano for the biscuits and gravy. Ivana’s serves breakfast and lunch, and its quaint, warm interior includes a chalkboard menu with the daily specials. On the day I visited, the specials included a Polish sausage omelette and lunch fare like homemade lasagna and pork stew. The cafe is also unique because it offers Polish specialties like pierogi, potato pancakes, cheese blintzes and kolaczki. Ivana’s does offer the traditional breakfast fare, like skillets, eggs Benedict, pancakes, waffles and French Toast, and lunchtime staples like burgers, sandwiches and wraps. But their other lunch menu items include hot turkey or meatloaf sandwiches, or entree platters with pierogi, sausages and other flavorful delights.
12 W. Washington St., Oswego
The Peach Ring bills itself as a “candy shop featuring artisan, old-fashioned sweets, sugar-free and nut-free candies, as well as everyone’s favorite candy classics.” The store holds true to this, offering unique chocolates, candies, and nut-free and sugar-free choices. Fitting with the artisanal, “old-fashioned” nature of the sweets it sells, the store is simple and well-decorated with white walls and hardwood floors. The displays of candy are neat and organized, with jelly beans and other sweets stored in large glass jars for customers to scoop out into bags. The truffles and toffee were also highlights from my first visit. Truffles can be purchased individually, or in boxes separated by flavor. I went classic, with the chocolate truffles with a smooth filling and shell. The dark chocolate toffee I had seen described on the store’s social media as a favorite of employees. I too enjoyed my piece, half covered in sea salt that helped to enhance the bitter dark chocolate and sweet toffee.
125 Main St., Sandwich
There are some foods you can only find in certain areas of the country: Springfield has its horseshoe, Louisville has its hot brown, and Sandwich has the beef roll. I’ve lived in the Kendall County area for 26 years and have traveled throughout the United States, and I have never seen a beef roll offered at a roadside diner or cafe. But in Sandwich, there are multiple places to find a beef roll. This time around, I tried one from Gene’s Chicken and Pizza. This spot in downtown Sandwich has been serving families for 37 years. Gene’s has a menu with a wide variety of tasty meals, from their battered fried chicken to their fried seafood offerings like perch, and has a number of specials during the week, like fried chicken livers on Thursdays or a fish fry on Fridays with cod, perch or popcorn shrimp. But when I entered Gene’s, I was there to pick up some savory treats, including a beef roll. The beef roll from Gene’s was full of beefy flavor, and the onions and peppers added an extra kick to complement the creamy mozzarella. Gene’s also offers a variety of other rolls: chicken roll, chicken gyros roll, ham roll, vegetarian lover’s roll, turkey roll, tuna roll and gyros roll.
205 Wells St., Sandwich
Comfort food has different meanings to a lot of people. For some, it’s chicken noodle soup or pizza, and for others, it’s eating an entire bag of chocolate chips by yourself. To me, one of my top comfort foods is chicken strips. I’m not sure why; it may be because I’m secretly still a child. But I love chicken strips, and I loved the chicken strips I had at Brenda’s Frozen Custard. The small diner located just off Route 34 features 1950s rock ‘n’ roll-style decor, and a wealth of food, including wraps, burgers, paninis, salads, corn dogs, pulled pork, mac ‘n’ cheese bites, and, of course, custard. On the day that I visited Brenda’s, I ordered a double helping of chicken strips (a total of six strips) with ranch dressing because I was pretty hungry. For a side, I ordered what I’m pretty sure is a new side dish, seasoned straight-cut fries. It was delicious. The whole meal was delicious. It was quick, simple and filling. So filling, in fact, that I ended up taking some of my leftover chicken strips with me to eat later. (They were just as good the next day). I was so stuffed with chicken and fries that I didn’t have any room for custard, something I plan to remedy very soon.
1031 Station Drive, Oswego
This cozy establishment’s walls are adorned with pictures of figures from the Prohibition era. Tabletops follow along with the theme, and so does the menu. Entrees are brought out in dishes lined with paper decorated like a 1920s newspaper. For those in the mood to catch a sports event, Prohibition Junction features a bank of TVs behind its bar area inside the dining room. Prohibition Junction’s extensive drink selections keep that spirit. There are fun cocktails like the Prohibition Berry and Banana Popsicle, specialty drinks like the Moscow mule and Black Fedora, and a large selection of martinis. Prohibition Junction’s menu features a large selection of “gourmet bootleg burgers,” sandwiches, wraps and dinners ranging from prohibition tacos to coconut shrimp and chicken Parmesan.
220 Bridge St. (Route 47), Yorkville
Capitano is an Italian-style deli, featuring freshly made sandwiches with Boar’s Head meats, cheeses and breads, as well as charcuterie boards, desserts and soups. During a November lunch, my dining companion enjoyed a small bowl of clam chowder and the Yorkville Broil: a London broil, provolone and mozzarella on garlic buttered sourdough. Meanwhile, I had a small bowl of tomato basil soup and the new sandwich, the Mahunga: an oven-roasted chicken, Italian herb-crusted mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and bacon on a baguette. Each sandwich came with chips, and my guest ordered a moscato, while I chose a root beer. Both sandwiches were incredibly filling. The Mahunga was juicy, subtly flavored with the Italian herb cheese, and I liked the crunch of the baguette. The Yorkville Broil, according to my guest, was juicy and enjoyable, with the garlic flavor of the bread a pleasant taste that lingered but was not overpowering. Each sandwich was large enough to be cut in half, and when paired with the soup, made for a very filling meal.
7671 Clubhouse Drive, Yorkville
With grand views of a 6,604-yard golf course in the rolling countryside five miles east of downtown Yorkville, the Whitetail Ridge is an ideal stop for a relaxing dinner. The Mystery Diner ventured to Whitetail Ridge on a lovely Saturday evening, arriving at a bustling restaurant also hosting a wedding reception in the adjacent banquet rooms. Whitetail Ridge, which serves lunch and dinner Mondays through Saturdays with a breakfast buffet on Sundays, features – no surprise – a golf-themed menu. “Teeing Off” appetizers include options ranging from pulled-pork sliders to nachos to loaded potato skins. A large sampling of “The Greens” include a fresh spinach salad and a new buffalo chicken salad. With empty stomachs and big expectations, we chose from the “Back 9" dinner entree section. My dinner companions opted for the bourbon-glazed salmon and bruschetta chicken, while the Mystery Diner went with the 16-ounce prime rib available Fridays and Saturdays. We certainly were not disappointed. Pun intended, when it comes to restaurants on a golf course, the Whitetail Ridge is a real hole-in-one.
33 W. New York St., Aurora
If you’re looking for a fresh, fun, trendy take on the traditional beer and burger, Gillerson’s Grubbery is the perfect spot. Gillerson’s first opened its doors in the middle of the city’s increasingly bustling downtown area across the street from the Hollywood Casino in the fall of 2015 on the site of the former Chef Amaury’s restaurant. The brick storefront exterior with a simple sign suggests a typical neighborhood tap, but Gillerson’s is anything but. We walked in on a warm summer evening to a cheery interior with hardwood floors and bright-colored walls. Gillerson’s is bursting with creative ways to dress its handcrafted 8-ounce beef patties. The headliner is the Rebel Duck, a steak burger with pork shoulder with bacon, white cheddar, fried onion strings and barbecue sauce, but there is also a Spicy Hawaiian Burger, Avocado Turkey Burger, “Grumpy Patty Melt” served on marble rye, and a “Mac Daddy,” a steak burger with mac and cheese, bacon and roasted jalapeño.
• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Record Newspapers. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. The Mystery Diner is not intended to be a restaurant critic but does highlight the parts of a dining experience that he/she can recommend.