Francesca’s By the River / St. Charles, IL

A few nights ago, my mom had some big news to share, and what better place to celebrate than Francesca’s By the River?

Located on Second Street, within close proximity to Main and the Fox River, we arrived and were seated promptly.  A friendly staff in a large setting immediately greeted us with smiles, making us feel right at home.  I was a little upset that the room was dark, with all the shades drawn on a beautiful, sunny day, but my company quickly made up for that in cheerfulness.  

Starving, we ordered an appetizer of bruschette con arugula, which was topped with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and arugula.  The flavors bursting in each ingredient got us excited about the rest of the menu.  After diving into the specials, I decided on a burrata salad and zucchini flowers.  Frisee was topped with burrata cheese and delicious red and yellow beets.  Each chunk of vegetable was large, inviting the lucky recipient to pair each piece with the sweet cheese.  The rest of my family ordered Ceaser salads, which each had quality ingredients and shaved Parmesan.  

A bit new to the concept of eating zucchini flowers, I was only aware of their presence battered in beer, stuffed with Gorgonzola, and fried.  Not to say that isn’t delicious, but I was pleasantly surprised when my plate appeared with three flowers, covered in a tomato basil sauce and stuffed with mushrooms. Although zucchini flowers don’t have much of a taste on their own, they were an excellent vehicle for showcasing the sauce and mushrooms.  The finely chopped mushrooms flirted with the earthy sweetness of the tomatoes, and I wish I could have licked the plate!

My family’s dishes fared just as nicely, with Linguine al Fagottaro for my brother, who enjoyed the simple cold sauce atop his dinner.  My dad, a lover of ravioli, was not disappointed by his Ravioli Tartufati, smiling and exclaiming how wonderful the Parmesan cream sauce was.  Finally, my mom was happy to report that her Pollo alla Disperata was one of the greatest flavors she had ever tasted!  Sneaking a piece of pepper from her plate, it was hard to disagree!

Our waitress, as well as the rest of the staff, kept our plates moving and allowed us to share our stories from our days without interruption.  After trying out many Italian places in the Chicagoland area and being disappointed, I finally found a winner in Francesca’s.  And to think, they have a location just a block away from my old apartment in Chicago!



Kuma’s Too / Chicago

We’d heard the rumors; hour long lines for the most delicious burgers this side of the Willis Tower.  Longingly peering over our shopping bags during every Trader Joe’s trip to the restaurant below us, we decided it was time to see what the buzz was about.

Promptly seated on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, the first thing we noticed was the music.  It was hard not to, considering conversation was impossible without shouting.  Chalking it up to the classic rock star owner, we dived into our menus.

Two pages, which consisted mostly of (surprise!) burgers, salads, and fried beginnings, I was a little uncomfortable with their attempts to be cheeky.  “No waffle fries.  Ever.” was on not one, but both pages and prominently displayed at the bottom was their absolutely no vegan food policy.  I get it, it’s a burger joint, but was it necessary to state that so boldly?  It was a little off-putting, much like the service.  Our waitress was either incredibly uninterested in our orders, or was too distracted by her multitude of other duties at the place to care.

After about ten minutes, a plate of fried pickles, our appetizer was placed in front of us, as well a refresher of our drinks.  A bit long considering the dining room was only half full.  I would like to say that the pickles were good, but unfortunately, all I can comment on is the breading, which was decent.  Fried to a crisp, and tasting of corn, they incased comically thin sliced pickles, leaving no taste other than the breading whatsoever.  A plus was that about ten came to our order, which meant we were able to enjoy quite a few as we waited.

Our burgers arrived about fifteen minutes later, and came by a different server, who was much more pleasant.  My veggie Goatsnake was a rice and bean patty covered in goat cheese, “frizzled” onions, and poblano corn relish.  Haunted by the great memories of my veggie burger from The Counter (Kuma’s previous occupant), the bland taste was not much to write about.  The bun, however, perfectly soft and butter, and the fried onions complimented the goat cheese nicely.

I opted for a side salad and was surprised at the size.  Although I paid an extra $2 more for it, the size was a bit much for a side.  What looked like a fresh pile of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers was actually a heap of drenched veggies.  Each item I picked up oozed basil dressing, not a welcome addition to an already heavy lunch.  Not to mention, the cucumbers were sliced so thick it was impossible to even eat them.

Michael’s bison burger-the burger of the month, was not much of an improvement over mine.  Although he reported that it was “very good”, he said it wasn’t anything to rave about.  His fries and ketchup, on the other hand were good enough to gobble up in five minutes.

Not being a fan of neither burgers nor classic rock, the food and atmosphere left me feeling angry and upset.  I can’t even say if it was from the food or the music!  Although I would much rather point you in the direction of other burger favorites (Edzo‘s anyone?), if you are looking for a tantalizing burger, a great beer selection, and not much conversation, Kuma’s Too is for you.