Well, to show how out of touch I am, I didn't know that there was a Chicago Roadfood Tour this weekend; not that we could have made it anyhow, because this was college move in weekend for our daughter. But since we were in the area and it was only a couple more hours drive, Sunday afternoon we drove to Chicago (actually Wood Dale) to visit my sister Barb and her husband John, and they took us to dinner at Aurelio's.
There are actually 43(!) Aurelio's, most of them in and afound Illinois and Indiana, but some as far away as Las Vegas, Denver, and Ft Myers Florida. Barb told me that the ones closest to the original are family owned, but I don't know that that is true. We ate at the one in Addison, IL.
The restaurant is situated as an outlier in a strip mall. Aurelio's Addison has an outdoor dining area that is surrounded by a wrought iron fence and thick hedges to maintain privacy, a nice touch; it was a little bit cool when we were there, so we ate inside, but on a warmer evening the patio would be great.
Indoors the place is warm and inviting, the decor a nice mix of old and new:
We were seated promptly, ordered drinks, and looked at the extensive manu. In the middle of the menu is the list of Aurelio's signature dishes, with pictures. We decided to order Chinese restaurant style; a little bit of everything to share. So we ordered a table salad, a large pizza with sausage and mild pepper, spaghetti and meatballs (the standard for any Italian restaurant), and Chicken Bouquet (I think), chicken with artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a cream sauce. Also served: warm rolls and garlic bread.
The salad was killer.
Man, this was really, really good. Obviously, from the picture you can see that it isn't just lettuce and tomato; it is stuffed full of pepperoni, pepperoncini, olives, cheeses, peppers... but what I thought made it was the dressing. Working from memory here, but it was the standard olive oil & vinegar, with garlic mostly, and not sweet (I like it not sweet). The rolls I didn't get a picture of (they looked a lot like rolls).... they were really good, fresh and chewy and spongy with a crisp crust.
The pizza came cut midwestern style, crosswise. I'd forgotten about that.
The crust is thinner than most eastern crusts, and different than New York crusts; breadier, not as chewy. The toppings were good, and plentiful as you can again see from the picture. The pizza itself is savory, not spicy; more herbs than vegetables. I thought it was a bit salty, but not enough to complain about; everyone else thought it was great, so what do I know.
Spaghetti and meatballs.
This is my test for every Italian restaurant I go to; can they make this simple dish rise above its simplicity? Good spaghetti and meatballs isn't complex, nor bland; nor is there only one way to prepare it. But you either get the balance of ingredients right, or you don't. I would say that Aurelio's has this one down pretty good. I'm not up on the different regional variations of Italian cuisine, but I would call this "traditional". The sauce tastes like it has been slow cooked for a long time, with all the flavors blended together wonderfully. Again, the emphasis is on savory rather than spicy or sweet. The meatballs are big and beefy. I'd have this again, and again.
Chicken Bouquet. (I'm not sure this is the right name: it is chicken, artichoke hearts, and mushrooms in a cream sauce)
Everyone at the table thought this was great. I have to say that I flop for stuff like this. The chicken was tender, the sauce was creamy and cheesy and buttery but not oily. There were lots of artichokes, and the penne was nice and chewy, neither too soft nor too rubbery.
I have to say something about the garlic bread, because garlic bread is usually an afterthought at a big, heavy meal like this one.
But you know that something is going on when you are stuffed, completely... but you can't stop dipping the garlic bread in the marinara and cadging an extra bite.. and then doing it again... then doing it again... I mean, it's fresh bread, toasted with good butter and chopped garlic. Again, this type of cuisine is about doing simple things right, repeatedly. Simple doesn't mean easy. This is good.
With 43 locations, I can't sit here and write that every single Aurelio's is the same. Like all franchised operations regardless of the goods offered, the quality of the product and service depends entirely on the culture and management of the individual franchise. What I CAN sit here and write is that Aurelio's in Addison has it together. We had a really fine meal with great service. I'd go there again, happily.
<message edited by Mosca on Mon, 08/24/09 1:54 PM>