The Bank Restaurant has everything I want in a dining destination: lively atmosphere and attentive servers, a sense of history, modern American cuisine and a fun beverage program.
Owner Rick Horan, a second generation restaurant owner (he also operates the Old North Pancake House in West Chicago), opened The Bank Restaurant in late 2007. As you can guess from the name, the building housed a bank, the Gary Wheaton Bank, from the late 1890s to the 1960s. A drugstore, then a video store, later occupied the space.
The Bank121 W. Front St., Wheaton, (630) 665-2265, thebankwheaton.com
Cuisine: Classic and new American
Setting: Comfortable, lively space in historic building
Entrees: $19 to $39
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
The restaurant pays homage to its former self most notably with the prominently displayed original vault door, historic photos of the city's downtown and the use of the old safe as the wine cellar.
Yet with all this history hanging about, this restaurant is in no way old-fashioned or stuffy. The lighting, bar and seating styles borrow from the late 1800s without being kitschy or overdone.
It's a friendly spot where you can grab lunch after browsing downtown boutiques, stop for dinner with co-workers (it's right across from the train station), enjoy appetizers and acoustic music with friends at the bar (it offers a number of craft beers and lively cocktails) or savor weekend brunch with the family.
The menu blends familiar favorites with modern fare crafted by Kevin Horan, Rick's brother, who came on board earlier this year. The Bank's menu leans heavily on steaks (from an 8-ounce petit filet to a 20-ounce bone-in rib-eye), chops (like the signature double bone-in 12-ounce pork chop) and seafood (grilled scallops and pan-roasted salmon). Kevin Horan injects excitement into these dishes with twists like homemade steak sauce for the steaks, pico de gallo with the chop, and black rice and roasted zucchini with the salmon.
Our evening began with cocktails and appetizers, which range from traditional (shrimp cocktail and bruschetta) to trendy (beef sliders and Asian-style lettuce wraps) to unique (wild boar taquitos). The taquitos feature delicious, well-seasoned slow-cooked meat and piquant peppers but didn't count as taquitos in my book. I expected them to be tiny, tight rolls -- like the things I buy in the freezer section -- not egg roll-sized. The ceviche (a special of the day), provided a light and refreshing counterpoint to the wild boar.
All entrees are served with a cup of homemade soup (both the tomato bisque and potato leek versions I sampled get high marks) or a wedge salad.
I could taste Horan's experience in fine dining (he's worked in the kitchens at Cafe la Cave and Medinah Country Club, for example) in his pork tenderloin dish. The apple and sweet potato hash made a flavorful and texturally interesting accompaniment to the tender medallions sauced with a bourbon-spiked reduction.
He also goes the extra mile on his game-of-the-day and catch-of-the-day preparations. The venison sure sounded appetizing, but fell shy of wowing; we would have preferred a bolder, more herbaceous sauce to stand up to the meat. The mashed potatoes, however, were fantastic: perfectly smooth with just the right amount of salt.
When it came time for dessert, we looked no further than the first item: The Bank Brownie. This fudgy dessert, big enough for two to four, was a close cousin to a gooey lava cake and was made even more decadent by caramel and chocolate sauces. Want something lighter? There's creme brulee and a rotating choice of gelato and sorbet.
Our server was amiable and knowledgeable about both the menu and the wines, steering us toward glasses to enjoy with our entrees and hitting the mark. When a pre-dinner mai-tai didn't please one of my companions, our server cheerfully removed it from the table and the bill.
The Bank Restaurant provides space for private parties and boasts a temperature-controlled and covered dining area that beckons spring and summer diners.
Will I be back? You can bank on it.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not review restaurants it cannot recommend.