This month, Hemmingway’s Bistro in the Wright Inn is quietly celebrating a ten-year anniversary.
This restaurant, just north of Scoville Park, serves a hotel without a lot of flashy exterior signage…without, in fact, much indication that it’s there at all.
Most Oak Park residents who’ve dined at Hemmingway’s Bistro would probably prefer to go for lunch or dinner. I decided to check it out for breakfast.
Our village has a lot of places for breakfast – including beloved classics like Al’s and George’s –but at none of these early morning restaurants will you see cloth napkins and white tablecloths, nor a server who wears suspenders, starched white shirt and tie. Granted, on a lot of days, that’s probably not what you need with your morning coffee. I found it rather pleasant.
Here, instead of talk radio or a television, you hear Django Rinehardt and Stephane Grappelli plucking their strings lightly in the background. Music in a restaurant is critical to setting the mood, and here, the atmosphere is definitely relaxed and still business-like though entirely unhurried.
This peaceful breakfast was made more so by the almost total lack of any customers – except me – at 7:30AM. Normally, this might be construed as a criticism of the restaurant, but Hemmingway’s Bistro probably opens for breakfast primarily for hotel customers, many of whom may get room service, so having only a few tables occupied early in the morning may be more the norm.
A friend who used to chef at the Ritz Carleton told me that she could determine a chef’s skills by the omelets he or she prepared. The omelet is a simple dish, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make well, and a good one requires a lot of finesse.
I had a French omelet, with herbs and mushrooms.
The folds in my omelet were delicate, almost crepe-like, and the exterior tasted simply of egg and butter. The herbs were mixed in with the egg, and the mushrooms were added with restraint to the center – this was no bulging burrito of an omelet, but rather a light, simple, well-prepared example of what in France would probably be considered a bigger-than-average breakfast.
The lunch menu tends to trend somewhat more American, with chicken pot pie and club sandwiches. The dinner menu, however, is traditional bordering on conservative. At dinner there are many French-type standards from another era, like Duck L’orange and Beef Wellington (French-seeming in that it’s en croute – in a pastry shell – but probably not French in origin, as it bears the name of the guy who whipped Napoleon at Waterloo). There are few surprises; most dishes on the menu are recognizable and likely ones that many of us have had many times before.
And maybe that’s part of the reason why this place has survived. Whereas trendier restaurants like Breijo and Slaton’s Supper Club have come and gone, Hemmingway’s Bistro keeps doing what it’s always done, holding fast to the more or less traditional bistro format, without fanfare, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.