If we lived in Palm Springs or in South Beach, it wouldn't really matter. But, in Chicago, where we treasure each day of precious
summer, the coming of spring means we can come out of our homes for more than a quick scurry to the corner with our collars up
around our necks. Soon, we can spend long days and longer nights, eating and drinking on sidewalks and back patios, as
restaurateurs continue to realize the potential gold mine of dining al fresco.
This year, there will be new options to go along with the old favorites. You can still wander out to the back at Roscoe's, enjoy the
open french doors at Reza's in Andersonville, enjoy the architecture of Printer's Row while eating pizza at Eduardo's on south
Dearborn, and even take in the classic outdoor Chicago meal with a hot dog in Wrigley Field.
A newer option includes planned sidewalk tables at the Andersonville location of Charlie's Ale House, which has a large,
established outdoor patio at its Lincoln Park location on Webster Avenue. Both feature an extensive selection of foreign and domestic
beers, a large selection of wines by the glass, and bar food plus. The plus includes more than the usual burgers (although there are
some of those too), like salads, and entrees that feature fish, sandwiches, and more.
The outdoor patio at Old Town stalwart, Orso's, is hard to see from the street, and many customers don't even know it's there.
While the brocade and deep red overdone elegance of the interior is fine for cold, dark nights, summer demands the patio. Walk
through the restaurant, and out the back exit near the washrooms, and you'll find plenty of tables in a cozy and secluded back yard,
plus more tables up on a platform overlooking the ground level. Order iced tea, dig into the Italian bread, and order from a huge
selection of traditional Italian fare, or just good old pizza.
Just down the street is a decidedly informal affair at Einstein Bagels. Sure there are only a handful of tables, and they are right on
the sidewalk, but that's sort of the point. Chow down on a deceptively high-fat salad and sip super sweetened iced tea while watching
the masses go by. With the loss of tables at the now shuttered Caribou Coffee almost next door, tables should be harder to snag than
ever. For a more private patio, head north to the Einstein's on Clark Street in Andersonville.
Another informal option is the Riverside Restaurant, located on the northern edge of Bucktown, on a quiet stretch of Cortland, just
a block west of Ashland. Most visitors to this restaurant go on Sundays for the all-you-can-eat brunch, which is laid out in a back room
of the maze-like interior, which is carved out of a former store and apartment. Choices include the usual pancakes, sausages, eggs,
french toast, and bacon, but also a lot of Mexican fare, and even kitschy goods like Ho-Hos.
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You can eat inside, among the eclectic antiques, but the side patio offers a shady tree-lined option for a leisurely meal. To avoid
crowds, go for lunch during the week, or on Saturdays, when breakfast is ordered off the menu, but the atmosphere is much more
Directly across the street is longtime favorite, Jane's. The fresh American cuisine served to loyal diners at dinner, is matched by
full plates of brunch food on Sundays. Whenever you go, you can avoid the sometimes cacophanous single room interior, by sitting at
one of a handful of tables set up out front with a few flower boxes. Sample everything from veggie burgers to fresh fish. Favorites
include the vegetarian burrito with goat cheese and angel hair pasta in a spicy tomato sauce with chicken and spinach. Big spenders
should try the tender, flavorful filet.
Also in the neighborhood, is Feast, located on Damen Avenue, just north of the big North, Damen, Milwaukee Avenues
intersection. Their outdoor side patio is big, shaded (thanks to a new roof), and popular. During colder spring and fall months, heavy
flaps come down to protect diners from the chill. Expect a wait for an outside table, but then get rewarded with a view out onto the
trendy Avenue. Watch and be watched, and forget about the food. If you must, the burgers, salads, pastas, etc. are perfectly fine, but
nothing more. Good luck getting water or coffee refills, and don't even think about a second slice of bread, but, remember, that isn't
why you're eating here.
Across the street, the food isn't really any better, but the unbelievably popular North Side bar and restaurant continues to pack
them in. Again, the view is what it's all about, with tables spilling out from the patio right out onto the sidewalk. The front part of the
patio is uncovered, while the back is protected so much you may feel you aren't even outside. In fact, this area is sealed up and open
in the winter months. The food is what you'd expect from what is really a bar—burgers, fries, chili, beer. Be warned, the crowds on
weekends can remind you why you never joined a fraternity or sorority.
See the front page, left side directory of www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com for Dining Out listings.