Highly Recommended ****The times have changed! Back in my younger days, when suburbs surrounding the Greater Chicago area were not as plentiful, there was a town, just north of the city where one could get a great meal in a quiet setting. This town, Highwood, became a destination for city dweller and for suburbanites living along the North Shore, a haven where they could get a drink with their dinner or just a drink, if that was their pleasure. As a youngster, working at Music Theater and Tenthouse in Highland Park, many of our audience members came to those theaters from dining spots in Highwood, and Herb Rodgers (proprietor of both) took his stars to these spots after the show.
Many a time during a summer visit to Ravinia or one of the Highland Park theaters (or even Writers in Glencoe), a short hop to Highwood, is perfect. One of the dining spots, Alex’s Washington Gardens, has been a part of Highwood since the 1940’s when the Scornavacco family started bringing their brand of pizza to those who got off the old “North Shore” trains and visitors to Fort Sheridan made the jaunt to their back yard garden for a drink and pizza. Later, they moved to what has become restaurant row, Green Bay Road and today, Alex’s Washington Gardens enjoys the same home cooking and warm atmosphere as if one were visiting the Scornavacco family.
In reality, when you dine at Washington Gardens, the “family” is still present. We had dinner there the other night; Jane and I along with our good friends Alan and Vickie. Greeted by the host/owner Jim Stoecker, who found happiness in his youth as a customer at this restaurant which led him to purchase the restaurant and taking on his new title “keeper of the flame”. We were escorted to our table in the very busy dining area of this intimate space located at 256 Green Bay Rd, in the heart of Highwood. This room has the warmth of being “home” and all of the employees and the customers were like old friends within minutes of our getting settled in. Of course, I need to tell you about our server, Lidia, sweet Lidia, who knew every customer and greeted each person, no matter at her table or not, as if they were old friends. She made a great impression on us as she went over the specials of the day and added some information about the history, in addition to the two minute history lesson that Jim will be happy to share with you.
We started the evening with a drink and I found the martini to be sheer perfection. It was served exactly as I like it. I am no James Bond, but I do have my druthers as to what I think is a great martini, and guess what? It was just that! The menu is a delight to read and many of the items are so well described, I found my mouth watering just from the words. When I am visiting a restaurant with friends, I find it a wonderful experience to all order different things and share. After all, this is family dining and I am sure that the Scornavacco’s would feel comfortable with this.
For appetizers, we decided to have the steamed Mussels. They are steamed in a wine, herb and garlic broth with fresh tomatoes ( no canned anything at Washington Gardens), and a Lobster Fritti along with a Calamari Fritti. Both of these take fresh tender slices of either calamari or lobster and prepare them in a special breading- wow!. For the table, we had the house salad, again made with only the freshest of veggies; iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, green onions, egg slices and five choices of dressing. At the table of course, breads and bread sticks for dipping in your olive oil and cheese mixture.
For our entrees, we chose to do a fish plate, and were amazed at the freshness and flavor of the pike that melted in your mouth. We also enjoyed the flavorful steak special , the Chicken Cacciatore and Veal Marsala that was as savory and juicy as veal can be. All of the entrees came with sides so we had a mix of veggies, some pasta and potatoes. As if this wasn’t enough, we also had heard some terrific things about “the thinnest pizza on the North Shore”, so, you guessed it; we had a pizza, half cheese/sausage and half veggies. Every taste was as good as it gets. Everything fresh and each meal prepared with the loving touch of the chef who has been a member of this family for years and it shows with every plate of food.
How could we even think of Desert? Well, we did. We decided to have a little something with our coffee and opted for the canola and a special caramel apple sundae that will excite and delight your eye at first and then will be eaten and bring the same joy to your taste buds and stomach as it did your eyes. Another WOW! (this one all, caps, that is how special it was.) Leaving the restaurant very satisfied, we said this is a treasure for the North Shore and while it is smaller and intimate, it is a dining spot worth the drive and even worth waiting to get into. I know from our experience that they have a lot of regulars, but I got the feeling from Jim, as well as our delightful server, Lidia that they always welcome newcomers to Alex’s Washington Gardens. You may come as a new diner, but you will leave as a friend, and will return. FOR SURE!
To learn more, read their menu on their website www.AlexsWashingtonGardens,com. to make a reservation, call 847-432-0309
Again, the restaurant is located at 256 Green Bar Rd ( just one block from the Metra station, so even if you do not drive, you can take a train). By car, you can take 41 north to Route 22, go East to Green Bay Rd and go North to the restaurant, where there is valet parking available. Enjoy! IWe did!