15 Sep 2014
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Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style

We risked food coma to find the best Italian meal served at Isabella's.

Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style Isabella Cafe: Alfresco Dining, Italian Style

The term “dining out” takes on a whole new meaning when eating alfresco.

There’s just something about good food, fresh air and summer sun that revs up your appetite. I recently stopped by Isabella Café, in , looking for a taste of Italy on Oak Park Avenue. I wasn't disappointed.

My dining partner and I lounged at an umbrella-topped table in front of the patio area and dug into the menu. Isabella Café offers a weekday luncheon special—a bargain considering you get a choice of soup or salad, an entrée and a drink for $10.95.

My guest chose the special, while my hearty appetite and I cherry picked from the expansive a la carte menu.

My lunch began with a bowlful of mussels marinara ($6.25)—my favorite shellfish—steamed in olive oil, crushed tomato and plenty of garlic. It was perfect for bread dunking, a yummy activity in which my dining pal eagerly joined after finishing his garden salad. I didn’t even flinch at his double dipping.

Having finished the mussels clean (this starter is big enough for two to share, or good for a meal in itself), we dutifully wiped our saucy lips clean of garlic and tomato—lunch was coming!

My friend chose Linguine Pescatore, a pasta dish with mussels, calamari and scallops tossed in olive oil and garlic. My choice? Chicken Limone served with orzo and grilled mixed veggies ($14.95). It won best in show for both presentation and taste. The garlicky-lemon flavor of the chicken was a knock-out at first bite—clean and fresh, with the zing that can only come from real fruit.

At the risk of falling into a food coma, we finished our meal with dessert, all homemade. Our friendly waiter, Abraham, suggested we share a serving of the most popular item on the list, Zuccotto ($5.95). It’s a dome of dark chocolate cake surrounding a white chocolate and pistachio mousse filling, served with both chocolate sauce and a raspberry sauce. As Abraham promised, the dessert was neither too heavy, nor too sweet—it was just the right combination to end a savory meal.

Our table faced Oak Park Avenue and conversation sometimes competed with the traffic noise. Next time, we’ll pick a table on the side. Still alfresco dining, sans the noise and curious pedestrians ogling your next bite.

Juan Carlos Guzman is the chef and owner of Isabella Café, along with his wife Fanny. Chef Carlos brings years of culinary expertise to the table, much of it centering on Italian cuisine.

“The house special menu changes every Friday,” he said. “Though the osso bucco and stuffed eggplant with procuitto are always popular items.”

Fanny is proud of the outdoor patio, which was newly remodeled just in time for the summer season.

“We made it larger and nicer with new wrought iron furniture and planters,” said Fanny, who was responsible for planting and arranging the flower boxes.

Originally a private home, the inside of the cafe is adorned with murals and cozy tables. Aside from lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers catering services and is a popular venue for showers and private parties.

Whether you're embarking on a ladies' lunch, romantic date or a special dinner night with the family, Isabella Café is the perfect venue.

But if you go, heed my most important piece of advice: Order your own serving of Zuccotto. It’s really too good to share.

Isabella Café, 17211 S. Oak Park Ave, is open daily for lunch and dinner. Call 708-444-8555 to reserve for your next special event.

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