Razzle Dazzle

March 2020 View more

Kale salad

Anyone who has observed the evolution of downtown Aurora over the last five years or so could not have been too surprised by the arrival last fall of Stolp Island Social (5 E. Galena Blvd., 630.340.4980), named for the island in the Fox River upon which the restaurant sits. After all, where there was once quiet in this proud but downtrodden river city, there is today a fresh new focus on a community built around the arts, spurred in large part by the renewed success of the venerable Paramount Theatre and its suddenly burgeoning calendar of homegrown Broadway productions. Now locals and visitors alike are hungry for more—and, frankly, just plain hungry.

Enter Amy Morton, veteran restaurateur, lifelong theater lover, and one of those outsiders who took notice of Aurora’s budding new identity and immediately saw the art of the possible in this sleeping giant on the banks of the Fox.


“Aurora is a diamond in the rough if I’ve ever seen one, and I absolutely fell in love with the place,” she says. “Our goal with Stolp Island Social is to be part of the revitalization that’s taking place here; to help nurture the vibe of what we believe will be the new Roaring Twenties by creating a place where people can relax and feel like they truly belong.”

With One Look

Morton’s lofty ambitions unfold in a space that has more than a hint of the last Roaring Twenties, with the old Block and Kuhl department store transformed with a little understated razzle-dazzle. It’s an ideal spot for ladies who lunch, theatergoers (with a precurtain prix fixe menu option), or anyone else looking for some enchanted evening in downtown Aurora. (For those who like to put on their Sunday clothes, the restaurant also plans to offer a jazz brunch in the near future).

Lit by twinkling tea lights and decorated with comfortable and charmingly vintage furniture and repurposed artwork, the sitting area just inside the front door is a cozy spot to wait for a table—or perhaps the perfect place to just settle in for the night with a couple of good friends and a few good drinks. Those concoctions emerge from a square bar that anchors the center of the room, as the guys and dolls of Morton’s seasonally inspired cocktail program mix updated throwbacks like the G&T Rethunk and the Mortini under a phalanx of Edison bulbs—a warm and welcoming setting in which to offer a quiet toast to life, or simply to author another chapter in one’s personal story of tonight.

Clover club cocktail

Be Our Guest

A modern approach to old standbys carries over to the main menu, where Morton draws upon both her family’s legendary beef prowess and her own largely vegetarian leanings. A diverse slate of appetizers and entrées demonstrate a firm commitment to sustainability and locally sourced ingredients.

We started with an order of the crispy chickpeas, a bowl of deliciously spiced nuggets that taste even better with a dip in the green goddess dressing that accompanied our rich and flavorful crab cake. Steaks are the clear headliners among the entrée selections, and indeed the heritage Angus fillet was a tender and perfectly cooked delight, made that much more indulgent by the satisfying béarnaise and a side of marrow-smashed potatoes. Yet while the steaks (both house and reserve cuts) are the clear centerpiece of the menu here, don’t sleep on the handful of seafood and pasta dishes on offer, or risk missing out on a winner like the creamy mushroom pappardelle (below).

When it came time for the final curtain on our night, a spoonful of sugar was certainly welcome, here in the form of a decadent chocolate velvet cake and a crumbly take on carrot cake—two of my favorite things. When it comes to doing their part in the revitalization of downtown Aurora, Morton and her crew are onto something wonderful.

Creamy mushroom pappardelle

Photos by Galdones Photography (Food) and Alan Shortall (Interior)