Let’s get it started: A tantalizing look at some of the Park Ridge area’s favorite appetizers
By Trent Modglin
Tavern on the Point’s calamari
When Tavern on the Point first opened, in the midst of the original Covid outbreak, our good friends beat us in for dinner… and then couldn’t stop talking about the calamari. It was that good, that unique, and that addictive. Since then, it’s been an automatic opener for every meal we’ve had there.
Perfectly fried squid that’s coated in a temptingly sweet chili glaze, and then topped with cilantro and toasted sesame seeds, arriving at the table with a sriracha aioli dipping sauce. Think sweet with just a hint of a kick. It’s light, flavorful and shareable, but we wouldn’t blame if you if you ordered it just for yourself. Like our friends promised, it’s just that good. Order a plate of calamari — or any appetizer — for half price (with an entree purchase) on Thursdays. 6724 N. Northwest Highway in Edison Park. TavernOnThePoint.com
Zia’s Social’s shrimp scampi
Joe Calabrese’s new gem in Norwood Park has quickly — and not at all surprisingly — become a hit on the Chicago-area restaurant scene. The restaurant, located in the renovated former Iron Horse Ale House, is gorgeous, and the menu offers something for everyone, from Italian classics to steaks and shareable wood-fired pizzas.
Plump Gulf shrimp are sautéed with garlic, white wine, chili flakes, fresh herbs and butter, then delivered to your table sizzling in a hot cast-iron plate.
Our appetizer of choice here is their delectable shrimp scampi. Plump Gulf shrimp are sautéed with garlic, white wine, chili flakes, fresh herbs and butter, then delivered to your table sizzling in a hot cast-iron plate. Included are slices of housemade focaccia bread perfect for dipping in your leftover sauce. 6158 N. Northwest Highway in Norwood Park. 773-775-0808. ZiasSocial.com
Qué Onda’s empanadas de jaiba
This colorful and inviting Mexican-style cantina has a fun vibe and menu full of fresh flavors. Empanadas and calamari are two things that — when offered — rarely escape my family’s grasp when we eat out. Qué Onda’s fresh-made guacamole is to die for, and the fried pork rinds are a unique alternative to your everyday appetizer — or “antojitos,” as they’re called here — but we really enjoyed their imaginative spin on the standard empanadas.
We’re talking blue corn masa dumplings, stuffed with a rich crab filling, resting atop some arbol salsa and then topped crema, queso fresco, mushrooms and onions. Got your attention, yet? 6701 N. Northwest Highway in Edison Park. 773-824-4000. QueOndaEdisonPark.com
Howard Street Inn’s burger sliders
This family-friendly, sports-loving restaurant next door to the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Niles is a great spot for lunch, happy hour, dinner with a group or catching the game. It’s a menu loaded with perennial favorites, so choosing one appetizer (we apologize to their famous wings) to highlight was not easy. But the sliders are an unmistakable hit.
We recommend the homemade potato salad with Howard Street Inn’s sliders. If they sold it in giant Tupperware containers, we’d be first in line.
Enjoy three classic burgers with your choice of seven different cheeses. Yes, seven! They’re cooked to perfection and served with your choice of chips, fries, homemade potato salad, coleslaw or tater tots. We recommend the potato salad because if they sold it in giant Tupperware containers, we’d be first in line.
Pair the sliders with a basket of beer-battered, white cheddar cheese curds, and you’re in business. 6700 W. Howard Street in Niles. 847-583-0795. HowardStreetInn.com
Zaza Cucina’s meatball polenta
This eye-catching, contemporary Italian restaurant in the heart of Uptown focuses on classic family recipes and innovative chef specialties. You could easily make a meal out of a few options off their impressive appetizer menu — and trust us, we have — because their baked oysters and clams, stuffed mushrooms, Spanish octopus and sausage and peppers are plenty enticing. But we’re leaning toward the flavorful housemade meatballs, made of a combination of braised beef and pork, and topped with a mild tomato sauce and parmesan cheese with creamy polenta.
Insider’s tip: Zaza Cucina has some outstanding daily drink specials like $12 off bottles of wine on Tuesdays, $4 off craft cocktails on Wednesdays and $10 martinis and $9 Zaza mules on Thursdays. And the fire pit-laden patio is a great place to meet friends for dinner. 608 W. Touhy Ave. in Park Ridge. 224-585-6155. ZazaCucina.com
Harp and Fiddle’s spinach artichoke dip
Harp & Fiddle’s boom boom shrimp hold a special place in our heart, but we’re going to give their spinach & artichoke dip some much-deserved attention here, largely because it was such a hit during our Super Bowl gathering.
This creamy favorite is a blend of four cheeses, chopped spinach, artichoke hearts and a little garlic. A pile of fresh-made parmesan pita chips line the dish, ready for action. Truly the perfect appetizer for sharing with friends and family over a pint of Smithwick’s while waiting watching the game or awaiting your main course. 110 Main Street in Park Ridge. 847-720-4466. TheHarpAndFiddle.com
Nonna Silvia’s Spanish octopus is boiled, grilled, sautéed and then roasted — and served with cherrywood-smoked bacon, roasted potatoes, kalamata olives, fresh rosemary and citrus.
Nonna Silvia’s polpo Isabella
Nonna Silvia’s has long been a revered destination for those looking for both the authentic tastes and hospitality of Italy. They utilize fresh, seasonal ingredients to create dishes that are simple, straight forward and delicious, using both traditional recipes and contemporary techniques.
Great care is taken with the preparation of their Spanish octopus appetizer. It’s boiled, grilled, sautéed and then roasted — and served with cherrywood-smoked bacon, roasted potatoes, kalamata olives, fresh rosemary and citrus. Quite the gratifying combination of so many things we like all on one plate. 1400 Canfield Ave. in Park Ridge. 847-292-9970. NonnaSilvias.com
Beacon Tap’s trash can nachos
As appetizers go, this is the perfect combination of presentation, portion size and scrumptious flavors. Perfectly sharable as a group appetizer — or perhaps even as a meal for 2-3 people — this eye-catching masterpiece is sure to draw attention from nearby patrons.
The show begins when a giant bottomless silver bucket arrives at the table for all to gawk at. Like a performer playing to the crowd, the server slowly pulls the bucket up, sending a cascade of nachos, cheese, meat, jalapenos, green onions and tomatoes onto the plate below — with onions, guacamole and pico de gallo expertly situated to the side. It’s just a perfectly-layered mound of goodness.
The meat options are plentiful, and everyone seems to have a favorite: pork, chicken, chorizo, chili, steak or brisket. We typically go with brisket and never doubt the decision for a moment. 1374 Lee Street in Des Plaines. 847-715-2772. TheBeaconTap.com
Beacon Tap’s trash can nachos are the perfect combination of presentation, portion size and scrumptious flavors. … This eye-catching masterpiece is sure to draw attention from nearby patrons.
Easy Street Pizza’s buffalo chicken egg rolls
The owners of successful Chicago establishments like The Country Club (Wrigleyville) and Waterhouse (Lakeview) opened their third Easy Street Pizza location — and first in the suburbs — right here in Park Ridge last fall, taking over the old Perry’s space on Devon Avenue.
This casual, family-friendly restaurant has been an instant hit in South Park. They’re famous for their pan (think thick, buttery crust) and specialty pizzas, but this article would not be complete without including their buffalo egg rolls.
It’s the best of two different favorites — grilled buffalo chicken surrounded by melty shredded Monterey Jack cheese and blue cheese, all wrapped in a crispy, fried egg roll. Our neighbor put it best: “How can you come here and not order it? It shouldn’t be allowed.” 711 Devon Ave. 847-823-4422. EasyStreetPizzaChicago.com
Margherita flatbread at S&T
Despite opening at the beginning of the pandemic, S&T has quickly made itself right at home in Uptown Park Ridge with a focus on baked goods, small plates and delicious drinks. Not to mention a friendly staff. And the exciting part is the menu here is always evolving, meaning you’ll likely discover a few new options with each visit.
To kick things off at S&T, we are often lured in the direction of their light and crispy margherita flatbread, aka “The Moran.” It’s perfect for sharing and layered with mozzarella and tomato, but the key here is the pesto sauce and balsamic glaze.
Insider’s tip: This is a great stop for a seasonal or classic cocktail, and on Fridays, their colorful martini flights — where you can choose three from their selection of 13 varieties — are only $30. 112 S. Prospect Ave. in Park Ridge. 847-518-5555. SweetAndTartShoppe.com
Pennyville Station’s kung pau cauliflower
There are a lot of things that, when fried, easily get your stomach growling. While cauliflower may not be one of the first things that comes to mind, it will be after you’ve had Pennyville’s version.
This popular Park Ridge establishment’s giant pieces of cauliflower are tempura fried and then topped with scallions and sesame seeds, followed by a drizzle of hot honey. A creative, tasty alternative to the everyday appetizer for sure. 112 Main Street in Park Ridge. 847-720-4841. PennyvilleStation.com
Crust Brewing’s charred lemon garlic wings
When the Matushka family, the ownership team behind the Hofbrauhaus in Rosemont’s Parkway Bank Park entertainment district, decided to make a change with their massive venue last year, we have to admit, we felt a bit glum. Mainly because we loved the unique, festive German atmosphere so much.
But after seeing the finished product — after nearly a year of renovations — we were more than content with their decision to open Crust Brewing, which boasts a combination of industrial and rustic design elements, a variety of seating options and their own microbrewery.
And while Crust’s Neopolitan-style pizzas are great, the highlight of our first visit this past winter were the charred lemon garlic wings. Smoked in house and full of flavor, a plate of these crispy wings is the ideal start to any outing. 5500 Park Place in Rosemont. 630-653-5500. CrustBrewing.com