Timely Tradition

April 2021 View more

Linguini vongole

From the homemade bread craze to the ongoing pizza explosion, the nostalgic draw of comfort food has proven to be one of the hallmarks of the pandemic. So while there may be a time when it makes sense to perhaps try and reinvent a cuisine, the folks at Positano (17W460 22nd Street, 630.501.1177, positanoristorantereviews.com) seem fairly adamant in their belief that 2021 is not that time for Italian food—because few things in this world better fit the comfort food sensibility than a straightforward plate of pasta.

Originally aiming for an early 2020 debut in Oakbrook Terrace, Positano ended up taking a COVID-inspired pause before eventually opening its doors in mid-December. But shifting plans seems to be something of a recurring theme at the family-run business, with co-owner Bill Burris noting that he was initially on board only to review and advise his brother-in-law on the restaurant’s lease arrangement. But instead he wound up as a 50-50 partner—and now he wouldn’t change a thing.

“This is just such a friendly, approachable place,” Burris says. “From the big bar up front to the sincere tableside service to the great food coming out of the kitchen, I’m really proud to have my name associated with what we’re doing here.”

Ruffino wine selection with linguini fruitta di mare

Settling In
Burris says that the goal was for Positano to be place where people would want to settle in and relax for a couple of hours—not just to enjoy a meal, but to let an evening unfold. Sure enough, there’s a distinct sense of warmth and laid-back charm upon entering the handsome space that feels light years away from the bustle of west suburban traffic out on 22nd Street. The hardwood floors and exposed beams give the deceptively large room a loft-like feel, while the black-and-white scenes lining the walls hark back the restaurant’s namesake village on Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast.

Amid ongoing capacity restrictions on the night of our visit in mid-February, the bar that lines the right side of the space had only a handful of patrons. But it was clearly designed to be a focal point, and one could easily envision a time in the not-so-distant future when every seat might be filled by not only diners waiting for tables, but plenty of folks just looking to while away an evening with a glass of Italian red or a signature cocktail like the Godfather old-fashioned.

Polpette con polenta

Hale and Hearty
As expansive as the wine list is, the dinner menu at Positano is equally impressive—not for its innovative excursions or culinary flights of fancy so much as the sheer breadth of its offerings. With more than a dozen pasta preparations, a handful of pizza options, and a plethora of chicken, veal, fish, and steak or chop dishes, one could easily spend those couple of hours that Burris spoke of simply trying to narrow down his or her choices.
We kicked things off with a traditional choice from the appetizer slate: three meatballs slathered in a tomato-basil sauce with a base of creamy polenta. The decisions got increasingly more difficult from there, but we came to an amicable split-share pairing of penne con pollo, featuring grilled chicken and spinach in a garlic cream sauce, plus risotto with grilled shrimp, scallops, and porcini mushrooms in a rich saffron broth. Rounding out the table were several side dishes: roasted potato wedges, a link of Italian sausage in red sauce, and a plate of fire-roasted spinach—with the latter leafy green emerging as the clear gold medal winner among this trio, and a perfect add-in for the allotment already present in the pasta dish.

The downside of such a broad and inviting menu, of course, is the many possibilities that don’t get sampled. But we comforted ourselves with a couple of solid options from the dessert menu—a pair of cannoli done exceedingly well (though, oddly, without the traditional pistachio garnishment) and the bombolini, two brioche doughnuts served alongside whipped mascarpone cheese and hot fudge (as all doughnuts should be henceforth).

Like the rest of the meal, both desserts were traditional in execution and neither seemed particularly geared toward reinventing the wheel, and that was just as it should be. After all, sometimes the old wheel provides exactly the kind of comfortable ride the moment calls for.

Photos by Jaime Campanelli