By Phil Vettel
The joke on the Zade’s Lounge website says the name was chosen “because Lounge, Sports Bar, Restaurant, Arcade, Blues Brunch, Karaoke didn’t fit on the sign.”
An even bigger sign would be needed to include “from the group that brought you Fat Rosie’s, Vasili’s, Davanti Enoteca, and more Francescas than a Tuscan phone book.”
That group would be Scott Harris Hospitality, formerly known as Francesca’s Restaurant Group, which operates restaurants coast to coast but is especially fond of downtown Naperville, where it has four restaurants and plans at least two more.
“I love the town,” Harris says. “I think by 2023 we’ll have six or seven concepts just in Naperville.”
General manager Michael Giampietro handles day-to-day duties, which are considerable for a concept that provides televised sports as well as a performance stage. “This is our first live music venue,” Giampietro says. “Totally new territory for all of us.”
Zade’s had its first band performance in late January, and live-band karaoke happens every Sunday evening. The Blues Brunch will launch sometime in April, though there will be St. Patrick’s brunch on March 19 that will be decidedly unbluesy. “More of a party,” Giampietro said.
You might glean from all this that Zade’s Lounge isn’t a destination for quiet conversation. You would be correct, but the noise level isn’t oppressive; I’ve been in bistros that were louder. All bets are off once the musicians start tuning up, of course, but otherwise it’s a comfortable space, consisting mostly of high-top wood tables surrounding a central bar.
The chef is James Keane, whose résumé includes stints at Harry Caray’s and Federales (a boisterous Mexican cantina in Chicago’s Fulton Market area). Thus Keane understands fine-dining and pub dining, and his menu offers some of both.
To bolster Zade’s music-venue status, the menu’s headings include Groupies (appetizers), Greatest Hits (burgers and sandwiches), Lolla-Pie-Loo-Za’s (thin-crust pizzas), and the like. Cocktails bear names such as Marshall Stack and We Built This Suburb on Rock and Roll; I recommend the Zade in the Shade, a flaming cocktail reminiscent of a mai tai.
The most eye-catching dish at Zade’s is the T-Rex, a Flintstonian sandwich of braised short rib, raclette cheese, onions, and giardiniera on a chewy Italian roll. The sandwich arrives with the short-rib bone jutting from the bread, but fear not; it pulls away easily. The meat is wonderfully rich, and though it’s the priciest item on the menu ($30), I recommend it.
I also recommend the kimchi mussels, a good-size portion swimming in a broth jazzed up with Korean spices, cilantro, lime, and kimchi. I’d call the spice level mild. Burgers are very good, particularly the peppery Zade’s Burger with arugula, pepper jack cheese, and onion jam, topped with a deep-fried jalapeno popper. Guajillo chile gives extra zing to the pulled-pork sandwich.
If you order fries—and I recommend them—splurge for the raclette topping to watch a server scrape melting raclette cheese over your frites tableside. Traditional Swiss raclette is served with boiled potatoes, so this version offers much the same combination. Sweet and sour Brussels sprouts are another good side dish, and the star of the vegetable selections (I wish there were a couple more) is the roasted cauliflower entrée, dusted with Middle Eastern spices and accompanied by raisins, chimichurri sauce, and spiced yogurt. It’s delicious.
Desserts are by Leslie Tellez, the executive pastry chef for the company’s many restaurants. At Zade’s Lounge she keeps things fairly simple, from apple-filled hand pies drizzled with caramel sauce to a chess pie (buttermilk custard) with honey sauce. There’s also the towering Sweet Piece of Cake, which combines red velvet and chocolate mousse with pralines and marshmallow fluff (I was too intimidated to order that one).
Service is exceptional; when my dinner companion one night asked for drink choices that would accommodate her gluten allergy, the waitress complied—and returned minutes later with a food menu that she’d marked up, unrequested, to highlight the safe choices. I dined solo another night and was impressed by the frequency that staffers checked on my table to see that everything was in order.
Zade’s Lounge offers valet parking to solve the downtown Naperville parking challenge. I arrived one night at 5 p.m. and the valet was horrified to discover that the valet tickets weren’t yet at the station. Did he ask me to wait while he ran into the restaurant for them? He did not. He handed me the end tab from a box of chewing gum and said he’d take care of my car.
A couple of hours later I returned to the stand with the Silliest Valet Stub Ever, and the valet, after saying, “Oh, I know exactly which car this is,” brought my ride around.
I really should have kept that piece of cardboard.
Photos courtesy Scott Harris Hospitality