Frank on food
Restaurant Month in Oak Park has begun, and as I consider the current culinary scene in our community, I can only marvel at how much it has grown – and changed – since those happy, heady days when I was the chef at Philander’s.

That, of course, was way back in 1979. Newcomers to the area may well be surprised to learn that their village, until 1972, had been dry. As you might imagine, Oak Park was an out-and-out restaurant wasteland.

But that all changed when Dennis Murphy, our aptly named Dean of Oak Park Restaurateurs, garnered the long-coveted liquor license that would allow Philander’s to have the first-ever sit-down bar in Oak Park. It’s still one of the most attractive bars in all Chicagoland.

Rave reviews by Tribune food critic Fran Zell and James Ward of The Sun-Times ensued. And Oak Park was on the culinary map. Today it boggles my mind when I realize just how big, and diverse, our local restaurant landscape has become. So in the spirit of Restaurant Month in Oak Park, here are just some of my favorites:

Poor Phil’s Shell Bar at the corner of Pleasant and Marion streets in The Carleton Hotel is the third restaurant created by Dennis Murphy and remains one of the most popular spots in town. It has the largest selection of beer in Oak Park. And although the Murphy Burger still reigns supreme, Poor Phil’s is hands-down the best place in the area for oysters on the half shell. Try an assortment!

Just up the street at 100 S. Marion, you’ll find Marion Street Cheese Market, an innovative, reasonably priced, newcomer that I am sure to be writing more about in the future. Owner Eric Larson is obviously a man who knows about the finer things in life – he serves Todd & Holland Tea, after all – and you will, too, when you sample his astounding array of artisan cheeses, unique selection of imported hams, and inventive entrees, all executed, I’m pleased to say, with precision by former students of mine from the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College.

Continuing north on Marion to the other side of Lake Street, Terry Thulis, venerable owner of Marion Street Grille, is a man after my own heart. Hard-working, dedicated and consistent, he has an unpretentious menu that features perfectly roasted rack of lamb and great barbecued ribs. But above all are his sautéed lake perch and frog legs – just as they used to be served at the legendary Phil Smidt’s of Hammond, Ind. Keep it up, Terry!

Taste of Brasil – that’s how you spell it in Portuguese – is the newest kid on the block, at 906 S. Oak Park Ave., next door to Oak Park Bakery. Maria, Ana and Marco Mazon have opened a small restaurant that has everyone talking. This is the place to try Brazilian food, and the Mazon family has put their heart and soul into bringing their native cuisine to our town. Lighter fare such as empanadas, assorted croquettes and hearts of palm pie are offered daily.  More substantial dishes, such as Feijoida and Moceca ($10 each), are available on Saturday. And this is the only place in the area where you can enjoy Guaraná, the popular Brazilian soft drink. Good luck to the Mazons!

These are only a few of my favorite Oak Park restaurants. If space permitted, I could go on and on. Give these a try if you haven’t already, and be sure to check out details on these and more at Wednesday Journal’s new Web site:

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander’s restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts. In his 35-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan City, Ind., and in Lake Geneva, Wisc. He has also been executive chef at the Saddle & Cycle Club in Chicago. Frank lives in Forest Park, where he cooks for pleasure.

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...