As befits the look of an upscale casual chain, Cooper’s Hawk Winery is no exception in its polished image. The sleek Web site, modern exterior, shiny floors and black tables are all there, which in turn often begs the question: Is this another case of restaurant style over menu substance? The answer is, there’s a little of both style and substance.
The fourth location of this Chicago-only chain of wineries and restaurants just opened in Wheeling, right across from the Westin on Milwaukee. The winery is located in Orland Park, but great big oak barrels for wine ageing are seen through the windows here at the Wheeling location. Outside, a concrete patio lets you enjoy a sunny fall day, and inside, a gift shop serves as the entryway to the restaurant itself, boasting varying goodies from bottles of wine (obvious) to cheesecake on a stick (not so obvious). Alternating carpet and hardwood floors lead to the main dining area through the wine-tasting room and bar. The general layout is pretty by the book, as exemplified by many similar restaurants, with its open kitchen and large spaces, so we were curious to see what made this one stand out.
The menu serves up some classic contemporary American grub, such as chicken and mashed potatoes, ribeye steak and seafood, and at a modest two pages, it isn’t a hassle to navigate.
We started with a free sample of the Barrel Reserve (a potent bouquet of the house merlot and cabernet) as well as a bowl of the always-hard-to-resist crab and lobster bisque, here branded as the restaurant’s signature soup and one patrons “will never forget.” Creamy and quite heavy with small pieces of crab, lobster and shrimp (the most visible of the bunch), the soup was also pretty heavy in butter – always a surefire taste pleaser, but a little like cheating, too.
The main courses were absolutely enormous. Anne’s chicken Saltimbocca, which we found under the chicken specialties, was comprised of several chicken breasts topped with thin prosciutto, melted provolone, garlic and sage, and served in a thick and (again) very butter-heavy, white wine lemon sauce with big artichoke hearts, capers and diced tomatoes. As accompanied by Mary’s potatoes and asparagus, the dish was truly overwhelming in its heaviness, which even the vegetables couldn’t disperse. A dish such as this is definitely eaten better in two seatings.
Another main course, Aunt Lynn’s Asian pork tenderloin, was a sliced pork tenderloin roasted in honey, soy, ginger and brown sugar. The meat was perfectly cooked, but a little bland, something which the fragrant Asian noodle stir-fry beside it promptly offset.
Having been open for only about two months, the restaurant can be somewhat forgiven for its slightly distracted service in the dining area. The service in the gift shop, however, proved more than competent and very friendly. Cooper’s Hawk is a good lunch or date destination, with varying menu items from sandwiches to steaks. What makes it definitely worthwhile though is getting some free wine samples brought to you at your request.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. Our aim is to describe the overall dining experience while guiding the reader toward the menu’s strengths. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
Cooper’s Hawk Winery
Facts: 583 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling; (847) 215-1200; coopershawkwinery.com
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Setting: A very modern, airy and polished eatery with a gift shop, wine-aging oak barrels and a diverse menu
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Price range: Appetizers $7.99 to $10.99; entrees $9.99 to $29.99; desserts $5.99 to $6.99