Osteria del Oswego—Tuscan Tavern
Fertile as they may be for nurturing everything from soybeans to subdivisions, the fields of Oswego have never much been considered a cradle of culinary enticements. But as suburban sprawl continues to creep into this longtime agrarian community and the population of hungry residents continues to grow, the restaurant scene is beginning to produce some green shoots of its own.
A prime example of this phenomenon can be found tucked into an otherwise unremarkable little retail complex on a wide-open stretch of Route 71, just down the road from Oswego High School. There, wedged between a mom-and-pop fitness club and a chain sandwich shop, sits the unassuming Tuscan Tavern, an inviting Italian oasis on the northern Illinois plains. And while this anonymous setting may not evoke the charm of Oswego’s quaint downtown strip nearby, the same sense of small-town comfort and familiarity is very well represented.
“Cozy” is perhaps the best way to sum up the vibe of Tuscan Tavern’s compact space, with dark wood, slate accents and tabletop candlelight combining to set the warm, inviting temperature of the room. A bar abuts the equally intimate main dining area, where a small contingent of booths and tables keep the crowds and noise levels in check, while perhaps contributing to longer waits during prime weekend rushes.
The collection of diners on our Sunday night visit seemed to be a mix of locals happy to have found another non-chain option to sample and out-of-towners like ourselves, surprised to discover a place serving up a Sinatra soundtrack and a respectable red sauce out here in the fields. We split our attention among the food, drink and nightly special menus while enjoying a just-from-the-oven loaf of crusty bread served in a small baking pan. While the wide range of wines and craft beers presented a formidable task in its own right, winnowing down the many options on the dinner menu into a reasonable meal for two would prove more challenging yet.
For the appetizer course, we decided to split orders of the beef-and-pork meatballs from the regular menu and bacon-wrapped dates from the specials slate. The substantial and savory meatballs came bathed in a tasty tomato sauce and topped with parmesan shavings, while the dates—though small—benefited greatly from their crispy pork sheaths and accompanying red pepper sauce for a near-perfect balance of sweet and savory. We also took turns picking at the enormous Sicilian wedge salad—that is, when we weren’t simply sopping up the thick blue cheese dressing with another slice of bread.
This pre-meal indulgence seemed to all but ensure that we’d be leaving with carry-outs from our entrees, but these would certainly not be the back-of-fridge leftovers that inspire dread or, worse, a call to the pizza parlor. My companion’s rigatoni carbonara, for instance, was a wonderful take on the classic cream-based pasta concoction. On the other side of the table I was doing what I could to whittle away at a plate of the spicy housemade sausage giambatta, which was surrounded by cubes of potato and strips of red pepper and onions and abetted by a small mound of linguine. So, yes, a couple of to-go boxes, please.
But not before dessert. Three sweet and crispy miniature cannoli and one massive slab of fudge cake later, it was clear that a couple of things besides crops had grown out here on the fields of Oswego—namely, our waistlines and our awareness of a dining destination in our neighbor to the west.
4571 State Route 71, Oswego