Ambiance al fresco: More than a sidewalk table

July 2, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Just about anyone can get a permit to set up some tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk. But this time of year, ABC7's Hungry Hound is always looking for restaurants where they've invested the time, and in some cases, the landscaping, to really add to the dining experience. Here then are three options for great alfresco dining this summer.

Lots of restaurants claim "patio" space, but few have transformed their backyards as well as Roscoe Village's Volo, which also happens to cook ambitious food and pair it with affordable wines.

"I think we really wanted to create a space where it was kinda like a respite from city life, you could kinda come back here and forget where you were," said Jon Young, owner of Volo.

Don't popcorn-crusted scallops with hominy compote and tabasco taste better outside? Even sweet pea flatbread - with its basil puree, cippolini onions and pea tendrils is going to somehow improve alfresco.

"The cabanas and the gardens, or what we did was we used reclaimed brick from old demolished Chicago buildings and just everything seems to work very well together," said Young.

In River North, there are plenty of sidewalk cafes, but at Flatwater - which hugs the Northern bank of the Chicago River - the patio is actually below ground, giving diners a little more quiet as they dig into grilled calamari or pesto capellini with shrimp. While the city buzzes two stories up, dining on the river becomes its own little escape.

Just a mile West of the Loop, Piccolo Sogno can claim bragging rights for what is, undoubtedly the finest outdoor patio in the city. Lush, large and enclosed, it is a perfect canvas for Tony Priolo's rustic, yet refined Italian cooking.

"It's the passport to Italy..coming to Piccolo Sogno you feel like you're in another place, you feel like you're dining countryside," said chef and owner Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno.

Pizzas are a given; his bianca has no tomato sauce - just fresh, peppery arugula, olive oil and parmigiano reggiano. Halibut is fork-tender, served over farro grains with earthy porcini mushrooms, leeks and bright lemon oil. Priolo works hard to make everything in-house, but realizes that sometimes - if the weather and the light is just right - just about anything tastes better alfresco.

"I think people feel better dining outside, they feel more relaxed when they're eating outside; you know this is downtown but you don't feel like you're downtown. You seriously feel like you're in another place," said Priolo.

321 N. Clark St., River Level


Volo Restaraunt Winebar
2008 W. Roscoe St.


Piccolo Sogno
464 N. Halsted Street


Also mentioned:

1060 College Ave., Wheaton


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