Bodega Grill & Wine Lounge took over Gurneez Diner's former space in November and is a world apart from the former occupant. Offering a destination for locals who want a nice dinner out without driving too far, the chill spot serves a menu of internationally inspired small plates and entrees paired with an impressive drink selection.
Motif: The long marble bar is set with five TVs tuned to sports, which you can watch from one of the high-backed green chairs, high-top tables near the music or a booth. Dark wood walls, ornamented with wrought iron and lamps, separate the bar from the dining area, which features a fireplace, white tablecloth-topped tables and yellow lamps dangling overhead.
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Bodega Grill & Wine Lounge750 S. Route 21, Gurnee, (847) 775-1111, bodegagrill.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 to 10 p.m. Sunday
The lounge area seats 15 on comfy couches and armchairs and has its own TVs, making it a great place to hang out and have a drink if you're not dining. A 60-person banquet room has already proved popular with local businesses and organizations looking for a place to host a party.
Crowd: The spot is busiest Friday and Saturday nights, drawing families and couples in their late 20s through 50s.
Food: One of Bodega's head chefs is from Italy and studied in Spain and Venezuela and he brought those global flavors to the spot's menu, where you'll find Mediterranean octopus, Italian meatballs and paella along with more standard American fare like New York strip and pecan-crusted tilapia. The restaurant also makes its own world tour of desserts, including bread pudding, flan, churros, gelato and tiramisu prepared with three liqueurs.
We stuck to small plates, ordering the mussels and mini-lamb chops. Both were beautifully presented with the perfectly grilled lamb served over a bed of yellow rice and the mussels surrounded by slices of very crispy bread that were delicious dipped in the rich buttery sauce mixed with bell pepper confetti.
Liquid consumption: As you might expect from the name, Bodega Grill & Wine Lounge offers an extensive selection of wines available by the bottle, glass or half glass, meant for tastings or if you just want a little something at the end of the meal. You can also try three wines in a red or white flight, with a premium flight coming soon. Drinkers can browse through the wines and Bodega's list of bottled beers on an iPad and email yourself if you find a new favorite.
Cocktail fans will find a lot to love on the list of nine martinis designed to be unique to the bar. The focus is on after-dinner drinks, with sweet treats like the tiramisu cocktail, a blend of Rumchatta and vanilla and chocolate liqueurs. The signature Bodega cocktail features fig vodka, muddled blackberries and Prosecco, served with a skewered berry. It's strong yet mellow at the same time.
Service: The manager was tending bar when we were there and the owner was greeting guests as they came in and left, and both proved very friendly and happy to talk about the spot. Our server was more disappointing. While food came out fast, he didn't bother to offer explanations of any of the dishes he suggested or the wines in the flight we ordered, just directing us to the menu.
Music: Bodega offers live music every night. You'll find a piano player singing Italian ballads and Billy Joel hits during dinner on Saturday, a singer crooning Sinatra tunes on Thursday and a three-piece band playing Beatles songs every other Sunday.
Parking: There's plenty of parking in the spot's free lot.
Overall: If travel wasn't in your holiday plans, get a taste of some world cuisine at Bodega Grill & Wine Lounge.