Park Ridge Insider Todd Gentile on authentic Italian at Pazzi di Pizza and Zaza Cucina, watching games at Tavern on the Point, fashions at Camp Willow and winter escapes to Cedarburg, Wisconsin
18-year Park Ridge resident
Allstate Insurance Agent in Park Ridge
What you do for a living: I am an insurance agent for Allstate, and my wife Sharon is a dental hygienist. I own two insurance offices, one in Uptown Park Ridge (1 N. Northwest Hwy., 847-384-9050) and another in the West Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. I have been insurance licensed since 1992 and have had an affiliation with Allstate for the past 13 years. In addition, I am a USCG-licensed Master Mariner and charter boats on Lake Michigan throughout the summer.
How long you’ve lived here: We have lived in Park Ridge since 2004. We purchased and rehabbed a 100-year-old home near Uptown and absolutely love PR. I grew up in South Florida, and my wife grew up in the Old Irving Park neighborhood in Chicago.
We like the casual bar food and atmosphere at the Howard Street Inn in Niles. For authentic Italian food (and great baked clams), it’s Pazzi di Pizza by the Pickwick or Zaza Cucina on Touhy.
What you like best about Park Ridge: There are so many wonderful things to like about living in Park Ridge. It has so much to offer, from great schools to parks, sports, community activities, the library, restaurants, shops, etc. — how do you pick the best? It is safe community, and we feel blessed to raise our family here.
Best meal you’ve had recently: We ate lunch outside at Pennyville Station on a warm, late fall afternoon. My wife loved the chicken chopped salad with bacon balsamic vinaigrette. I ate the short rib sandwich. And my daughter ordered filet sliders. All around, a very, very memorable lunch.
Favorite restaurant in the area: We don’t have just one favorite, but we definitely have our favorites! We have been dining lately at Shakou. We find the atmosphere and food always deliver. We are regulars at Holt’s (love the blackened chicken salad with any of their pizzas). Mel’s Craft BBQ has been a great addition to the area, and they have some of the best brisket you can find anywhere. We also like the casual bar food/atmosphere at the Howard Street Inn in Niles. For authentic Italian food (and great baked clams), it’s Pazzi di Pizza by the Pickwick. We also enjoy Zaza Cucina here in Uptown.
Favorite “hidden gem” restaurant: Panino’s for their variety of pizza. They proudly boast about earning pizza awards, and the pizzas are all fantastic. But why I would consider them a “hidden gem” is because they also have really good Italian food. Consistent, comforting food with great service.
Best bar to grab a drink or to catch the game: Tavern on the Point in Edison Park is a great place for watching the game and a good cocktail or two. Tons of TVs, good snacking food and happy-hour specials make it a fine choice in the area.
A great night out with friends usually includes… being on Lake Michigan in the summer. We are a boating family and have spent many evenings with friends and family on the lake. There is something magical about witnessing the fireworks display from a boat, listening to music and enjoying the company of guests. The sights, sounds and energy coming from Chicago will put a smile on anyone’s face.
The best way to spend a Saturday in the winter: Without question, winter is always the busy season for us. It is all about the holidays and family birthdays — we have seven winter birthdays in our family and we celebrate every one! We are always extremely busy this time of year getting our house ready for Park Ridge’s Winterfest (we live on Prospect Avenue so there is an obligation to have your house decorated for the trolley service). We host Thanksgiving dinner, we have shopping to do, we host Christmas dinner, school events to attend, parties to attend — there is never a dull moment or a lazy Saturday. But we love it and somehow find the time to enjoy it all.
We are a boating family and have spent many evenings with friends and family on Lake Michigan. … The sights, sounds and energy coming from Chicago will put a smile on anyone’s face.
What’s something you look forward to every winter?
I must confess, winter is not my favorite season. Being raised in south Florida, I actually look forward to a trip south every winter to our favorite island — Sanibel Island near Fort Myers. However, my son and daughter can’t get enough of sledding down the hill at Centennial Park. When there is lots of snow, we also construct a mini sledding hill off the back deck of our house. My daughter calls it “Amelia-land.” She gladly hosts the smaller neighbor kids and has a blast.
Favorite local store or best shopping area: My wife, Sharon, loves Camp Willow. It’s a long-time favorite because of the Parisian clothing selection. She likes the one-of-a-kind fashions available and has been shopping there for years, outfitting our kids throughout their changing sizes.
Secret spot: It’s probably not a secret, but Off the Wall Café for coffee. Why drink chain coffee? Much better coffee here, friendly staff, cool atmosphere. Buy local!
Underrated activity in the area: Do not overlook our great forest preserves for hiking, walking and bike paths. During the pandemic, we couldn’t get there enough. It is so unusual to have so much forest this close to a major city.
Weekend getaway spot: We love Cedarburg, Wisconsin in the winter. We always stay at the historic Washington Inn, a turn-of-the-century bed and breakfast. Our kids love the jet tub in the room and how you leave a shoe outside your door for a morning treat/gift. If it’s snowing, there is an amazing horse-drawn sleigh ride through a farm with bonfire, hot chocolate and Santa. The town has an old movie theater that shows free Christmas classics, and the whole town is decorated in lights and really embraces Christmas. It looks and feels like something out of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
What have you heard great things about but have yet to try?
Reyes Steakhouse. It’s near my office and always looks and smells great. Friends have eaten there, and I have seen many positive comments and reviews online about them.