Cooper’s hawks are fast birds of prey that live within
a wide swath of North America. Cooper’s Hawk
Winery & Restaurant has until recently been spotted
only in Illinois, but on Nov. 1, it began delighting
local carnivores and oenophiles with a wideranging
menu and large span of wines.
A cooper builds wine barrels, and so the
name, like the operation, does double duty. Cooper’s
Hawk is very much about the wine, producing
48 varieties at an Illinois facility (and, to a
lesser extent, within the four Illinois restaurants).
The grapes come predominantly from California,
Oregon and Washington; the winemaking smarts
come from Rob Warren, who studied and practiced
winemaking in the Niagara region before
joining Cooper’s Hawk. More than 100 awards
and a current annual production of about 75,000
cases of wine bolster his resume.
Cooper’s Hawk founder Ted McEnery washed
dishes as a child and managed restaurants before he
left his teen years behind him. A degree in restaurant
and hotel management from Purdue University
and a handful of years later, 28-year-old McEnery
opened his first Cooper’s Hawk Winery and
Restaurant in Orland Park, Ill. That was 2005. Nov.
1 saw the opening of his fifth location, in a fully revamped
Bahama Breeze location on 96th Street.
A tasting room greets visitors with gift baskets,
wine-friendly foods, bottles and—along a
back wall—a tasting bar. Take a complimentary
sip or order a structured tasting of eight wines
for $7—a sparkling, three whites, three reds and
a dessert wine.
The menu intertwines food choices with McEnery’s
wine mission, offering a wine suggestion alongside
each item. Decisions must be made from the
four pages of “something for everyone” mayhem,
but at least those decisions come paired with drink.
“The menu has a little bit of everything,”
McEnery says. “The most important thing was
to have a wide variety and not a steak or seafood
theme. Certainly, the wines drive the menu. We
cook with wine as much as possible and have several
bottles open to figure out pairings while we’re
working in the kitchen.”
The “upscale modern” hodgepodge includes
Mexican drunken shrimp (bacon-wrapped and
sautéed in tequila lime butter) and lobster-stuffed
potato skins, red-wine-and-mustard short ribs
and gnocchi carbonara.
Wines are American in origin, and in that
it melds myriad foods and cultures, the menu is
American in spirit.
Asian will not be divided from Southwestern,
and lunch not from dinner: The Cooper’s Hawk
menu is available in its entirety throughout the
day, meaning that bone-in ribeye is as fair a pick
for lunch as is a fried-green tomato BLT for dinner.
Starting with Key lime pie surely wouldn’t be
discouraged, and in fact it, like the seven other
desserts, comes with a wine recommendation.
Minimalist décor utilizes wine barrels but
mostly stays sleekly mod. Stylish lighting provides
focal points, whether in long recesses along a hallway
or dominating the dining room as blocky
white-shaded pendants. An open kitchen fills one
wall of the dining room, and a large, lively bar
takes over a corner with a tucked-away feeling
stemming from the short hallway that leads past
entry to lounge.
Service is casual but efficient, attentive.
A Cooper’s hawk hangs low in foliage and
relies on the element of surprise. Cooper’s Hawk
Winery & Restaurant opts instead for solace, in
menu and presentation. Wine, this place says, is
nothing to fear, and the comfortable menu alongside
it underscores the point.
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant
3815 E. 96th St.,(317) 574-9463,
Restaurant hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday
through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday
and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
The bar and tasting room hours vary slightly from