Show Me Chicago's BYOB of the Month: 2nd Street Enoteca.

Show Me Chicago's BYOB of the Month: 2nd Street Enoteca.
Restauranteur Bobby Dubin takes time out to talk about his new dining concept before the evening rush at 2nd Street Enoteca. Photo credit, Niki Walsh.

BYOB, generally defined as, B…bring  Y…your  O…own B…(fill in the B, most often “Bottle”).

Thursday, May 3, 2012. Who doesn’t like BYOBs? If you enjoy a glass or two of wine with your meal, you can expect to pay, on average in Chicago, $12 for a 3 oz. to 6 oz. pour. Two glasses adds $24 to your bill, before you even have a bite to eat. If you prefer single malt scotch, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 a pour for a 30-year-old Macallan Single Malt Scotch to the sky’s the limit.  Even a simple bottle of beer can sometimes be marked up 500%.

Bring your own bottle of wine, beer, scotch or whatever and you are that much ahead of the game. You can easily cut the cost of your beverage tab substantially and put those extra savings into the food.

Starting this May, Show Me Chicago, will be highlighting a BYOB of the month. This month we are kicking off the series with the recently opened 2nd Street Enoteca, a BYOB dining destination featuring seasonal Italian fare in Highland Park–about 20 miles north of downtown Chicago.

We chose, 2nd Street Enoteca for two reasons. First and foremost for the food and secondly because, although there are countless BYOB’s in Chicago, BYOB’s are a rarity in the suburbs–in particular, Chicago’s North Shore.  Rarer, still is a BYOB enoteca (meaning “wine repository”) — that conjures up visions of a romantic destination for fine, expensive (often Italian) wines.

2nd Street Enoteca is the latest creation in a series of successful eateries by restaurateur Bobby Dubin who got his first taste of the biz at Johnny’s Hot Dog stand–at Kenmore and Wilson in Chicago–as a kid, back in the 1960’s.

Later, after working as a pharmacist, Dubin went back his love affair with food, taking over the 14-table Gusto Italiano in Glenview in 1985, enlarging it and creating a loyal customer following. Ten years ago, he took over the popular casual Highland Park favorite Stash’s.  Last fall, Dubin opened 2nd Street Bistro bringing organic American cuisine to diners, and in February the Enoteca opened its doors on 2nd Street between Stash’s and the Bistro.

Although the Enoteca has an upscale vibe, the prices are down-to-earth with no corkage fees. In addition, diners don’t have to limit their selections to wine, even though wine is a popular choice.  “It’s not unusual,” says Dubin, “to have a table for eight where they’ll bring in a case of beverages that might have eight bottles of wine, a bottle of vodka, a bottle of scotch and a bottle of tequila. It’s a party.”

The 80-seat BYOB is already creating a buzz and bringing in crowds, including many returning regulars. Reservations are more than a good idea, they are a must.  Bobby admits to turning away 100 to 150 people on some weekend nights and even had to send his son packing when he stopped by one evening without reservations.

The innovative menu selections at 2nd Street Enoteca have been carefully tested and perfected by Bobby and his staff including his former Gusto Italiano chef, Rico Hererra and 2nd Street Bistro’s Executive Chef, Michael Gottlieb (formerly Carlos and The Palm).

The Napolitano pizza (Naples style) is a standout dish that went through over 300 re-creations before they got it the way Dubin wanted. On the evening of our visit, we tried the Quattro Formaggio pizza ($14) made with Fior di latte ( a flavorful mozzarella from Naples) provolone, gorgonzola and parmigiano–it was perfection.

Two popular secondis are the Chicken Vesuvio (boneless Amish half chicken, sweet peas, garlic, Pinot Grigio and fingerling potato wedges) at $18 and the Bistecca Enoteca (a thick-cut skirt steak, braised rapini, rosemary-veal reduction and crispy potatoes) at $20.  Both are prepared sous-vide (under vacuum) which preserves the liquid making them moist and supple.

On our recent visit, during Highland Park Restaurant Week, we could have ordered the prix fixe 3-course menu consisting of some tempting selections for starters, entrees and desserts at a reasonably priced $29.  Instead we opted for a variety of choices which we split into small plates so we could sample a wide range of tastes.

For starters, Bobby recommended the Caponata di Cozze (P.E.I. mussels).  I am a fan of mussels and consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur on the subject. I must confess that these were the best mussels that I can remember eating. The P.E.I. (Prince Edward Island) mussels were fresh, sweet, tender, plump and juicy. They were served in a perfect blend of herbs and spices featuring Pinot Grigio, Fresille dipping bread, garlic and olive oil. I wanted to pick up the bowl and drink the sauce–somehow I managed to refrain.

The Perse at $17  (whitefish from Door County,Wisconsin) is already making a name for itself with Enoteca regulars. It is served within 24 hours of being caught in a beautiful and delicious three-layer presentation of cherry tomatoes, Pinot Grigio, garlic, artichoke hearts and spinach.

A staple of the antipasti selections is the legendary Pane di Spinaci alla “Gusto Italiano”–the stuffed spinach bread at $6, that has been on the menu since Dubin opened his first restaurant. We also sampled the Melanzand Rollatini (organic eggplant) at $9 which is a good-sized portion that is easy to share. Even if you are not a fan of eggplant, the lasagna-style presentation of eggplant layered with fresh ricotta, spinach, tomato ragu and fennel won’t disappoint. Another interesting and tasty starter is the Farro di Zucca. a combination of roasted butternut squash, farro and whipped farmers goat cheese.

Nine pasta choices along with specials are on the menu. We ordered the Linguine Mirafiore, black linguine noodles infused with a Ciroc Vodka cream sauce with a generous amount of  sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus and bell peppers at $17–a generous sized entree that I would definitely order again.

After all this food we had no room for dessert, but when I return, and return I will, I am definitely ordering the Pretzel Bread Pudding, or maybe the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Ala Mode, or possibly the Stuffed Cannoli or the……..

Location and hours.

2nd Street Enoteca is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Dinner entrees range in price from $12 to $24. In addition to dining in, 2nd Street Enoteca offers catering and private parties. For more information and reservations call, 847.433.3400. 1825 2nd Street, Highland Park, IL. Free on-street parking is usually available or diners can park at the Renaissance Place Underground Parking Garage–first three hours free–enter on 2nd Street across from the restaurant.


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