Kid-friendly restuarants

Eating out with kids — four words that send a shiver down any parent’s spine, especially foodies in a previous (i.e. pre-parent) life. Finding a place that serves chicken fingers and a decent chef’s salad is harder than it should be. A respectable beer selection, too? Dare to dream. We’ve been to all these restaurants — with kids in tow — and think every member of your family will find something on the menu.

A few twists on taking the kids out for dinner.

Burger heaven at Tom & Eddie’s

Tom & Eddie’s is a place where old-fashioned burgers andshakes meet modern day décor and technology. After only one visit,my 10-year-old has declared it his new “favorite burger place,” andfor good reason. He built his own concoction with cheddar, avocado,onions and fried wontons. I stuck with one of the restaurant’ssignature burgers, the “Blue Chip” with blue cheese, avocado andhouse-made potato chips.

I thought we’d never finish these big burgers after thedelicious chicken strips we shared before our meal. But I waswrong. We devoured them, along with perfectly crispy onion rings(the “Haystack”) and sweet potato fries.

My younger sons were satisfied with delicious “Tykes &Toddlers” combos, where they could choose from a cheeseburger, hotdog, grilled cheese and chicken. Mostly they were excited tosubstitute the standard sodas or juice for amazing milk shakes.Truly old-fashioned, these are freshly blended ice cream, milk andflavored treats.

As if the delicious food weren’t enough, Tom & Eddie’soffers many family-friendly amenities. Kids can grab any number oftoys to take to the table-most of which are wooden andbrain-powered, a refreshing change. My sons also loved theelectronic pagers at each table, which allow customers to call foradditional table service. They found excuses to use the device,including a request for cookies for dessert.

Instead of falling into the mix of fast-food burger joints, Tom& Eddie’s does enough great things to elevate the restaurant toa notch above. I also like the company’s policy of trying to uselocal food sources.

With multiple Chicagoland locations, families can easily locatethis delicious spot for lunch or dinner.



A different kind of kids’ meal at Jerry’s

In a time when restaurants are in the news for banning kids fromtheir dining rooms, one Chicago-area eatery is making it clear thatnot only are kids welcome, but they’re special, too.

Jerry’s Restaurant in Winnetka isn’t your typical tot-friendlyspot. The upscale bistro features seasonal offerings like Chileansea bass and coconut shrimp on its constantly changing menu. But onTuesdays between 5 and 6:30 p.m., Jerry’s offers the “Kids AreSpecial” promotion, which provides a sophisticated diningexperience parents can enjoy with their children.

In the three years since the restaurant opened, owner BetsySimson has noticed an increase in the number of kids interested ingourmet food-and in parents who want to introduce their kids torefined fare from an early age.

Plus, this is the type of place where the general manager showsoff pictures of his grandkids while showing you to your table,making the child-friendly promotion a natural fit.

But even on Tuesdays, there’s not a plate of mac and cheese or ahot dog to be found. Instead, the menu focuses on kid-sizedportions of gourmet food, such as green and white fettucine withspring peas, prosciutto and parmesan crème, or a crispy veggiespring roll with sweet chili dipping sauce.

And of course, don’t forget some molten chocolate cake fordessert.

With very small children, the best bet in warmer temps might besitting at one of the picturesque outdoor tables to take in theworld as it goes by-and stretch little legs while waiting for thefood to arrive. Mini-foodies, on the other hand, will enjoy theindoor opportunity to watch the chefs work their magic in the openkitchen.

If you’re looking for the regular “kids meal,” Jerry’s isn’t it.There’s no menu with a maze or cartoon characters and your foodwon’t magically appear in 10 minutes or less.

But for parents who want to enjoy a nice meal with their littleones, it’s a very welcome alternative to “no kids allowed.”


Best candy shops in Chicago

It’s the time of year many parents (and dentists) dread-Halloween. With its cavity-inducing/bedtime-ruining amounts of sugar and junk food, Halloween can wear on even the most lenient of parents. Maybe that’s why my grandmother used to give out pennies.

But, unless you’re the Wicked Witch of the West, you probably won’t deny your little one the taste of something sweet. It goes with Halloween like the errant neighbor that rings your doorbell at 9 p.m. after the lights have been turned off and the gate closed.

Yes, you’ll buy those mega packs of M&Ms and probably steal a few for yourself while you wait for your husband to bring the kids home from touring the `hood. But for special, out-of-the box Halloween treats, check out some of these fun candy stores.

Candyality

3425 N. Southport Ave.

(773) 472-7800

candyality.com

If old-school sweet treats are your thing, don’t miss hitting up one of Candyality’s three stores. The first and main location in the Southport Corridor is filled with every kind of gummy candy you could want, plus classic favorites like 5th Avenue Bars and Banana Moon Pie. Owner Terese McDonald even created Chicago’s first ™licorice bar? with selections from all over the world. How sweet that is.

Fuzzywig’s Candy Factory

2808 N.Clark St.                                                                                      

facebook.com/pages/Fuzziwigs-Candy-Factory-Chicago/284239211609147

The Lakeview outpost of this national franchise just opened in June. This bulk-styled candy shop carries just about everything chocolate covered and the requisite oversized lollipops and gummy sweets. Sugar-free options are available.

Margie’s Candies

1960 N. Western Ave.

(773) 384-1035

Billed as Chicagoland’s Finest Homemade Candy and Ice Cream Parlor, Margie’s has been serving guests in its Logan Square location since 1921. Margie’s uses Kosher dark chocolate to create the famous Cherry Stemmed Cordials. Candy can be gift wrapped for special occasions as well.

Kilwin’s

5226 S. Harper Ave. (opening late September/ October)

I’ve raved about Kilwin’s fudge before, and now Southsiders will be able to enjoy the delicious creations of hand-crafted chocolate at the newest franchise of this Northern Michigan staple. In fact, owner Jackie Jackson just recently traveled to Brussels to study her craft. Talk about having some hot chocolate skills!

Amy’s Candy Bar

4707 N. Damen Ave.

amyscandybar.com

In the heart of Lincoln Square, you’ll find a unique candy “boutique” filled with gummies, Amy’s signature sea salt caramels and hard-to-find local artisanal candies. And if you really want to delight those trick-or-treaters at your door: Wax Lips!


Upscale, kid-friendly food and fun at Pinstripes

When I think of refreshment offerings at bowlingalleys, I conjure up images of stale nachos and cheap bottled beer.But Pinstripes, with its
motto of “bowling, bocce, bistro,” defies that stereotype with an
upscale menu worthy of a visit even if you don’t want to partake in
game-playing.

With locations in Oak Brook, Northbrook and South Barrington,Pinstripes has a robust selection of wine and beer and a menu with entrees such as
maple glazed salmon and filet mignon. This gaming mecca also offers
gluten-free pastas, pizzas, beers and desserts like the Frangelico
chocolate cake and the Limoncello crème brulee.

Of course there is more casual fare such as a divine roastturkey cobb salad and a must-try prime rib dip sandwich with beefpiled high and served on a pretzel roll with provolone cheese andhorseradish cream. The children’s menu includes classics likepeanut butter and jelly, a cheese Panini, chicken strips and minihamburgers.

The expansive 40,000-square-foot interior and year-roundoutdoor patio with fire pits make it a popular venue for privateevents for all occasions and ages. The day we visited there wereseveral events including a 4-year-old’s birthday party, a familyreunion, a bar mitzvah and a bridal shower. Despite the varioussoirees, the venue didn’t seem at all crowded or noisy, and weenjoyed a peaceful lunch (well, as peaceful as a meal can be withtwo 4-year-olds) and then headed off to try bowling and bocce, afirst for our twins.

Tweens and teens will especially love Pinstripes as it hasa “grown-up” atmosphere yet is loads offun for kids.


A kid-friendly Butch McGuires? Yes, really!

Chances are when you think of the Rush and Division section ofChicago’s Gold Coast, late-night revelry, not family-friendly farecomes to mind. But Chicago landmark Butch McGuire’s is out tochange that by offering a kids-eat-free program for weekend brunchand weekday lunch.

“There are a lot of parents in the neighborhood and we want themto know that Butch’s is a great place for families to eattogether,” says Bobby McGuire, Butch’s son, who now runs the legendhis father founded.

With my twin 4-year-olds in tow for Sunday brunch, it occurredto me I’d never seen McGuire’s in broad daylight, let alone everconsidered bringing my kids there for food. Yet kid-friendly itwas, with my girls happily coloring and doing puzzles on the insideof the children’s menu as we waited for our meals at a long woodenbooth with plenty of elbow room for tiny artists.

The French toast portions are huge and delicious-and adventurouseaters who want a bit of booze with their brunch will enjoy adecidedly Rush and Division twist on this classic: “Car Bomb FrenchToast,” Texas toast dipped in a batter of Guinness and Baileys andtopped with Jameson maple syrup.

A special treat on weekends only is McGuire’s”Fall-Off-the-Bone” baby back ribs, dry rubbed, then slow-braisedand finished on the grill with its secret barbecue sauce. The fullor half-rack of ribs are served with creamy homemade coleslaw (todie for!), hand-cut French fries and baked beans. Our affablewaiter, who admittedly might have been a bit biased, thinks theyrival some of the most famous ribs in Chicago-and we couldn’tdisagree.

If the tasty food isn’t enough to tempt you into a visit, thenew kids’ special might. For each adult meal ordered, a child eatsfree from the children’s menu during brunch and lunch hours(Sunday-Friday 11 a.m-3 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-3 p.m.)

Bobby is the first to admit that McGuire’s doesn’t have akid-friendly reputation-yet. “Some people come in and don’t evenrealize we have a kitchen!” he laughs. However, he plans tochallenge that misconception one free kids meal at a time.

This mom, for one, is sold.


2Toots combines a train theme with healthier food for Chicago families

We might as well admit it: the food isn’t reallythe focus at most of Chicagoland’s choo-choo restaurants. We go forthe ambiance, the transportation-inspired décor, the model trainsdelivering food to the tables. And for kids, that’s enough.

But wouldn’t it be great if a choo-choo restaurantactually tried to provide healthier food along with thetrain-themed fun?

That’s the new emphasis at 2Toots Train Whistle Grill
(locations in Glen Ellyn and Bartlett), which recently introduced
hamburgers, hot dogs and chili made with meat from the Tallgrass
Beef Company. Tallgrass, founded by newsman Bill Kurtis, produces
beef that is 100 percent grass-fed, all-natural, and preservative
and hormone free.

I took my nephew, a choo-choo fanatic, to test out the newfood. In addition to his healthier hot dog, he was able to select afruit cup instead of the normal fries and organic milk to go alongwith it. Gluten-free buns also are on the menu.

My cheeseburger was perfectly grilled and crispy aroundthe edges, exactly what you’d expect from a place styled after a`50s lunch counter. But there also are several meatless options,like the spring garden salad, that sounded tempting to the moderngirl in me.

Of course the highlight of the visit was watching thetrain zip by with customers’ orders-every table is along thetrack-throughout the meal, although it kept my nephew toodistracted to completely clear his plate.

Of course, like any good aunt, I couldn’t forget aboutdessert. Aidan thoroughly enjoyed a train whistle cupcake (and blewthe whistle through the icing), while I indulged in one of thedelicious hand-dipped strawberry shakes. But those extra calorieswere probably counteracted by our healthier dinner…right??


Chicago restaurant Markethouse launches a new brunch menu

If your family is off for a day of exploring thecity, start out on a full stomach by brunching at MarkethouseRestaurant in Streeterville first. Its location is key-withinwalking distance of the lake, downtown parks and Navy Pier-and thenewly revamped brunch menu will please even the pickiest eater inyour brood.

While I dug into a delicious omelet adorned with variousmeats, cheeses and veggies with huge slabs of bacon as anaccompaniment, I felt slightly out-ordered by my husband, who chosethe toasted pecan banana cast-iron waffle. Other interesting waffleflavors foodie parents will enjoy include meyer lemon ricotta andsmoked salmon with capers.

My 4-year-old twins opted for Mickey Mouse-shapedtraditional buttermilk pancakes, which they reported were “betterthan Mommy’s.” Kids who are more adventurous in theirpancake-eating might try a griddle stack in flavors such asstrawberry rhubarb, blackberry mint, taffy apple or Michiganblueberry and brown butter.

Other popular dishes include the Miller Farm chicken andwaffles, the Miller Farm chicken pot pie (worth the 15-minute preptime) and the Slagel Farm smoked brisket.

Executive Chef Scott Walton, a Chicago native, prideshimself on sourcing local produce and using the restaurant’smassive rooftop garden for his original menu, which he says”marries Heartland basics with fresh, regional specialtyingredients from around the globe.”


Go Roma for fresh, family-friendly Italian food in Chicago

You might assume Go Roma is just another of those places whereyou order at the counter and then wait for your pre-made sandwichesto arrive. But really the only thing Go Roma has in common withthose other spots is the affordable price.

Every meal is made to order, from fresh salads and Paninis todelicate flatbread pizzas. As if fresh, made-to-order food weren’tenough, Go Roma also offers “Kids Eat Free” (with one paid adultentrée) every Sunday for lunch or dinner.

“Go for 2” options (all under $8) allow you to combinefavorites by halving small pizzas to share a plate with salad, soupor even a Panini. Starters include Italian classics such asMinestrone, Bruschetta and Toasted Ravioli, all for under $4. Mysons devoured the Garlic Cheese Bread in a matter ofmoments.

I went for a combo of Chopped Salad and their signatureOven-Roasted Vegetable Pizza, which substitutes a pesto sauce andgoat cheese for regular pizza sauce. Really delicious. All pizzascan be made with either classic or wheat crust for no extra charge.My 8-year-old had a combo of soup and a Chicken Parmesan Panini,made to his liking. We all enjoyed sampling his thin-cut,well-seasoned fries.

My oldest son created his own pizza by choosing from theextensive ingredient list and was thrilled with the result.Provided you can get your children to agree on ingredients, a smallplank pizza (eight pieces) can be shared by two kids. Otherwise,children under 12 can order from the Kids’ Menu, which offerspizza, chicken strips, pasta and mac & cheese. Kids’ meals comewith a drink and cookie for $4.49.

We were too full to sample the restaurant’s desserts, butit does offer a host of Italian gelatos, plus Apple Crostada andWarm Chocolate Pudding Cake. Fast, friendly service, plus freeWi-Fi access, round out the experience.


Burgers, pizza and craft beer at The Lucky Monk

Who doesn’t want a good meal, with friendly service, in acomfortable atmosphere, all for a good price? Residents in SouthBarrington have all that and more at The Lucky Monk, a relativelynew establishment specializing in burgers, pizzas and home-brewedales.

With a multitude of large screen TVs, plush couches in itsbar/lounge area and the house brews, The Lucky Monk may seem moreaccommodating to a 20-something crowd. But its menu options, largebooths and friendly staff also make it a great family destination.Bring your appetites because the restaurant’s generous portions anddelicious desserts are sure to satisfy.

We started with appetizers to share. The Warm Pretzel Trio withthree different dipping sauces was an immediate hit as Idouble-dipped in the herbed butter, while my sons loved the pizzasauce. We also enjoyed a wood-fired margherita pizza before ourburgers arrived.

In addition to a great selection of toppings, The Lucky Monkoffers its prime beef burgers in two sizes (6 oz. and 9 oz.),making it easier to order to all ages and appetites. TheBourbon Stout with cheddar, braised onions and tomato was juicy andcooked exactly to order. Burgers are served with thin-cut andperfectly seasoned fries. Definitely not health food, butcertainly delicious.

Young children might prefer to order from the Kids’ Menu, withchoices such as pizza, chicken fingers or mac & cheese. Choosefries or fresh veggies for a healthier option. Priced at $4.95,including drink, these meals are a hit for mom and dad, too. Infact, prices on the main menu are also affordable, especiallyconsidering the portions. Even the 9 oz. burgers are under $11.

You can definitely afford the desserts, which is lucky becausethey’re well-made and served to share. From the warm and gooeyplate of chocolate chip cookies to the Skillet S’mores, chocolatelovers will find much to make them happy. The house-made key limepie is also a winner.

The Lucky Monk is a great addition to the northwest suburbs andworth the drive for those of us a little farther away.


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