Oak Park has a large number of Italian restaurants: Cucina Paradiso, Gepetto’s, La Bella, Mancini’s, a few Italian beef joints (Micky’s, Michael’s, Buona Beef) and probably eight pizza joints (Pizza Palazzo, Puree’s, Giordano’s and more Domino’s than I want to think about).
You’ve probably been by Jimmy’s Place in Forest Park. It’s a restaurant with a bar (which, if you know that stretch of Madison in Forest Park, is not exactly a distinguishing feature). If the restaurant had opened this year, they’d maybe call it a “gastropub” (or maybe not, Jim himself seems like a very down-to-earth, no BS kind of guy).
First time there, I had the escarole with bean soup and braciole. Outstanding. The soup was clearly homemade, and the braciole, well, rumor is local restaurant guys come to Jimmy’s for this flank steak stuffed with mint, parsley, pignola nuts, and Parmesan cheese. It’s a fine and flavorful way to prepare an inexpensive cut of meat, and it’s the kind of authentic home-style Italian-American chow that it’s hard to find in Oak Park.
Went back on another night and had mussels in chunky marinara, rapini and cannellini beans, and what was called spicy linguine, a piquant mess of artichokes, red and green peppers. All very good.
One Sunday night I went with my daughter and had clams in marinara, eggplant Parmigiana and braciole (I get this pretty much every time I go). The eggplant Parmigiana was just as it should be: light breading and moderate cheese, thin slices of eggplant, over mostaccioli. Pasta is always done right – on the lighter side of al dente.
I’ve been ordering off the daily menu board, but the regular menu has the usual line-up of Italian food: pizza, lasagna, meatball sandwiches, etc, with a few interesting items (e.g., homemade cavetelli).
There is a short wine list (though I went with the Wild Turkey Manhattan), and the prices on the bottles are very reasonable. I didn’t recognize many of the names on the bottles, but, hey, this is pretty much an old time bar/restaurant, so I wouldn’t come here for the wine.
Overall, I’d say this is about as good as home-style Italian gets in Oak Park/Forest Park/River Forest.