Cooper’s Hawk: Worthy of Skipping Work (or Taking a Date)

Located at 583 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling, IL.

I went to Cooper’s Hawk for a dinner party. That in itself isn’t unusual, but I happened to skip work to go… and it was a work dinner party where two of my bosses were in attendance. That’s the type of savagery I operate with, people. Surprisingly, I didn’t get fired and instead had to endure a night of laidback grilling from the group who struggled to comprehend how much balls it took for me to show up.

Truthfully, it got a little annoying after a while, but enduring some light ribbing was worth it to experience the delicious food at Cooper’s Hawk.

The first thing to keep in mind is that even though the name of this particular restaurant (it’s actually a chain) is the whitest name ever, it’s actually not all that posh inside. Sure, the lighting is stylishly dim, so you can’t tell if a girl sitting across the restaurant is really attractive or not, and sure, the interior is an expert combination of classic and modern architectural design.

I think the best way to really describe the physique of this place is to imagine a hipster-esque type of eatery, but an upscale version. Interestingly, there isn’t an official dress code, although I saw everything from casual sweaters to men in business suits walking out looking like they had somewhere to be.

The pricing would probably be equivalent to two or three dollar signs on Yelp (actually I just checked and it’s two). Most pasta dishes fall between $14 to $18, while genuine entrées like pork and steak range from $20 to $30.

Unfortunately, since I wasn’t paying, I had to take note of what other people in the group were ordering and, quite frankly, people were being too miserly if you ask me. Someone got spaghetti and meatballs, another person got fish and chips.

One of my bosses got a freaking salad. I am literally shaking my head.

In any case, even though I wanted to go big, I settled for gnocchi with butternut squash as my entrée. In terms of appetizers, I had no control over what was ordered, although the dishes that came were really good.

— Appetizers —

Cooper’s Hawk Calamari (12.99)

There was a lot of calamari. It was deep fried and glazed with a tastefully sweet and subtly spicy sauce. There was also a dipping sauce which I was literally too lazy to try. At first I thought it was cheese, but it was really aioli.

I would highly recommend this appetizer. There was more than enough to go around for a group of seven people. And did I mention it was delicious?

Over the Border Egg Rolls (10.99)

As you can probably guess, these egg rolls were a fusion of Mexican and Asian cuisine. It’s not the first time I’ve had egg rolls like these, and honestly I thought they were solid. They weren’t spectacular, however, and if you’re going to spend money at a place Yelp gives two dollar signs, you probably want to go for spectacular.

Having said that, it was another big appetizer, although I’m not sure if they did that because of the size of our group, or if they actually roll out (hehe) two handfuls of thick egg rolls every time. It’s definitely a double-edged sword, though, because the last thing you want to do is accidentally fill yourself with appetizers and end up shortchanging yourself for the actual entrée.

I would say if you’re in a group, go for it. If you’re there with one person, skip it… unless both of you are eating machines. If you’re there by yourself, what the fuck are you doing with your life? Find someone to spend time with, gosh!

Some Flatbread Appetizers (I Think SMH) (8.99 – 10.99)

Like I said, I wasn’t there when appetizers were ordered and I’m not actually a food connoisseur so it’s hard for me to remember which flatbreads the table ended up getting. Whatever they were though, they were worth the money.

The texture of the flatbread was perfect – crunchy, but soft where it counts. The flavors worked well together, just a symphony of colors bursting in perfect synchronization. Remember that one scene from Ratatouille?

It was like that. I would recommend these for sure. One of them definitely had a balsamic glaze, so that should help narrow it down.

— Entrée

Gnocchi with Roasted Butternut Squash (17.99)

I don’t know why, but every time I’m not sure what to order at a restaurant, I just go for gnocchi (if they have it obviously). Usually I regret my decision because halfway through a gnocchi dish, I start to feel a little sick. Thankfully, Cooper’s Hawk did something right because this was probably the best gnocchi dish I’ve had in my (admittedly limited) experience with the world of gnocchi.

The sauce was warm and mildly sweet. The squash accentuated the dish and they gave just enough so it wasn’t overwhelming, but you could get some squash with every bite of gnocchi if you were strategic about it. The gnocchi itself had some very good filling – mushrooms and maybe some other edible ingredients.

Across the board, people’s portions looked small, but I guess I was duped because nobody really finished their meals except me and maybe one of my bosses. I would recommend this entrée, although like I said, if you’re going to a place like Cooper’s Hawk, you might as well spend some damn money and treat yourself.

So there you have it folks. Who would have thought an eatery with a name a frat probably came up with would be so great? Plus, there’s a Westin just to the side so if you eat too much and feel like you shouldn’t drive, you can catch a room and nap your coma away.

Cooper’s Hawk also has wine tastings and they bottle their own wine too. I had a lot of wine. I probably shouldn’t have so much wine if I’m going to write about the experience later.

Anyway, check them out!

P.S. Make sure you tell the staff if you’re not done with your dish. Otherwise they might be obliged to glide in while you’re in the middle of a conversation and sweep that sucker out from right under your nose. Next thing you know, you’re stabbing the table with your fork because you’re expecting food to be in front of you.

Countryside Saloon: Good Deals, Bad Service

Located at 2501 E. Ballard Rd, Des Plaines, IL.

When I went to the University of Iowa for a few years, I experienced my share of bars. Those were college bars too, often staffed by my peers and catering to hordes of horny college students who were trying to take the edge off the weekly grind of university stress. With that knowledge in mind, I can say without a doubt that those busy bars in Iowa City had better service than Countryside Saloon in sleepy Des Plaines.

I’ve been to Countryside a handful of times already and each time my friends and I have had to sit around and wait for a server to come by and hook us up with menus. Sometimes, a burger will be ordered and the condiments will come at a later time – much later.

We know better now, so we take a very proactive approach when we go there. You have to be engaged, otherwise you’re disengaged. And being disengaged means you’re never ordering your drinks and you’re ordering any food.

That’s a responsibility that shouldn’t fall onto the customer’s shoulders, especially when you’re going on weekday afternoons. The poor service at Countryside is a real killer, but it’s not a complete deal breaker either.

The saloon has been open since 1933, and the current family that owns it has been in possession for almost three decades. The interior design reflects many establishments that serve alcohol while maintaining a pretty clean reputation in terms of its patrons. Countryside is not where you go to party. It’s where you can take kids even during the weekend rush.

American nostalgia might be an appropriate description for the inside and “modernized log cabin” might be appropriate too. It’s a homely place, but it’s a dark place too and I’ve found myself losing a lot more energy and cheer than I’d like for whatever reason.

There must be a reason why people go to Countryside Saloon. I suspect it’s because their alcoholic offerings are very cheap, especially their beer of the month, which retails at only $4. What a bargain. Their food is also quite delicious as well, and their sweet potato fries are relatively thick and maintain that distinct sweet potato taste.

Trust me: it’s not that bright in real life. That’s just professional lighting/photography/voodoo.

While the interior can be a bit depressing, there is an interesting combination of nature-related trinkets – like a canoe and a stuffed bass – and sports memorabilia. It looks like the establishment is trying to cater to multiple demographics, although I’m sure they still mostly get middle-aged individuals and their kids.

There’s also an outdoor setup with bag games for people to enjoy. Music is played, like most bars, and Countryside chooses the neutral and perhaps bland genre of 1970s and 1980s classic rock – I heard a lot of overlap between the saloon’s songs and songs Walgreen’s plays at their stores. TVs are set up strategically as well and they all show sports.

The service might screw you over, although you might not mind because you’re probably going to spend less money than you would at another bar or saloon. The sweet potato fries are a must, and Thursdays offer a special on their standard burger.

But that’s delicious too, with succulent meat and fresh veggies. Countryside may have its downsides, but it isn’t a place to completely shun either.