Horse Sense—The Turf Room

November 2015 View more

NMAG1115_TableforTwo_Turf Room Interior_800pxIf the sport of horse racing has indeed been dying a slow death in the United States over the past several decades—and every indication suggests this to be the case, except for a random blip on the cultural radar when a transcendent talent like American Pharoah, or a traditional marquee race comes along—then the rest of the country is just catching up to the State of Illinois, where the slide has been precipitous. Indeed, the “sport of kings” has never more resembled a pastime of paupers than it has right here in the Land of Lincoln.

NMAG1115_TableforTwo_Turf Room-034_800pxNot that there haven’t been a few shots at redemption, with probably the most concerted resuscitation effort being the once-promising off-track betting (OTB) rush. OTB offered the opportunity to place a few bets, grab a bite to eat and perhaps win a few two-dollar bills all within an attractive, convenient and nearby facility. But despite some early successes, OTB mostly faded like a $5,000 claimer, with the novelty, charm and crowds all deteriorating in lockstep with many of the moribund OTB outlets themselves.

Long Shot

But maybe the public’s waning interest in OTB had less to do with a general lack of interest in horse racing and more with the execution of the concept. What if someone tried a revitalized version of OTB, wherein the horseplay and wagering were just one aspect of a more refined overall package, with the trifecta of gourmet food, an ambitious drink slate and a warm, inviting atmosphere taking the reins? That’s where the proprietors of The Turf Room have apparently chosen to place their bets.

NMAG1115_TableforTwo_Turf Room-049_800pxGone is the depressed stereotype of the old-fashioned OTB, awash in cigarette haze, questionable cuisine and broken dreams. In its place, a handsome North Aurora retreat of wood and stone, beckoning diners with rich leather furnishings, indoor and outdoor fireplaces and an eclectic collection of unique takes on classic American fare. Whether sampling that menu amid the dark, clubby refinement of the main dining room, the convivial vibe of the tasteful bar, the cozy confines of the outdoor patio or the compact, multi-monitored track room, one thing is abundantly clear—this is most certainly not your broken-down, unrepentant problem gambler’s OTB.

Post Time

NMAG1115_TableforTwo_Turf Room-015_800pxSeated beneath framed newspaper reprints from horse racing’s halcyon days in the near blackout of the main dining room, we pored over the massive list of wines, craft beers and signature cocktails, and began to contemplate the elaborate descriptions of the pizzas, pastas, steaks and chops on the dinner menu—this is definitely a place where it pays to read carefully and thoroughly, as every dish it seems tends to include some kind of unexpected twist or offbeat ingredient.

NMAG1115_TableforTwo_Turf Room-044_800pxAfter a fair amount of back and forth, we eventually settled on the lobster bisque to start—a rich, flavorful mixture poured table side that paired perfectly with our basket of warm bread. From there, our main courses included a delicious pasta concoction of farfalle, chicken, portabella, asparagus and garlic on one side of the table and a succulent 12-ounce double-bone pork chop, called the “bubba chop,” served with tart cherries and sweet potato hash on the other. Nearing capacity, we nevertheless hit the home stretch with the “What’s Up Doc?” carrot cake for dessert, a delicious take on the standard featuring bourbon vanilla bean cream cheese and sous vide honey-orange carrots.

And while we didn’t actually place any post-dinner bets in the track room, it was easy to feel like winners for having found this OTB reclamation project, and tempting to consider doubling down on a return trip in the near future.

The Turf Room
1033 Kilbery Lane

North Aurora