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posted: 1/15/2013 6:00 AM

Parkers' Restaurant & Bar in Downers Grove does seafood, and more, right

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  • Cod gets dipped in a Wisconsin beer batter and fried before it's served to diners sandwich-style at Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.

       Cod gets dipped in a Wisconsin beer batter and fried before it's served to diners sandwich-style at Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Don't overlook the oven-fired pizzas, like this Margherita version at Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.

       Don't overlook the oven-fired pizzas, like this Margherita version at Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Octopus with salsa verde is a well-composed dish served at Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.

       Octopus with salsa verde is a well-composed dish served at Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.

       Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Parkers' Restaurant & Grill sits at the end of 31st Street in Downers Grove.

       Parkers' Restaurant & Grill sits at the end of 31st Street in Downers Grove.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.

       Parkers' Restaurant & Grill in Downers Grove.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Olvera
Daily Herald Correspondent

Perched amid an office complex where 31st Street ends in Downers Grove, Parkers' Restaurant & Bar is a boon for seafood lovers. But it doesn't stop there. Clubby and wood-paneled, it's just upscale enough to feel special. However, its welcoming vibe checks pretension at the door.

Whether you settle into the lounge to the right of the lobby or the bustling dining room beyond, a menu of deftly prepared fresh catches -- and more -- awaits. And it all comes courtesy of executive chef Pat McLaughlin, who worked in the kitchens of the Park Hyatt Chicago, Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue and the University Club of Chicago.

We kicked off our meal in fine fashion with smoky, charcoal-grilled baby octopus topped with balsamic vinaigrette and salsa verde. Perfectly tender, it set the right tone for what followed.

Although pizza may not be the first thing you think of when dining here, believe me when I say it's not to be missed. When Parkers' Ocean Grill morphed into Parkers' Restaurant & Bar a few years back, it got Vera Pizza Napoletana certification and added specialty Neapolitan-style pies to its lineup of offerings. Wow, is the Margherita ever good. The chewy, blistered crust is topped with bright San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. It's simple perfection, turned from a wood-burning oven.

Although we wholeheartedly enjoyed these two beginners, you'll no doubt be pleased with the garlic-parmesan-dusted calamari topped with lemon gremolata; seared crabcakes with lemon-garlic aioli; or lobster-shrimp fritters with horseradish cocktail and honey mustard sauces.

The soups and salads are plenty tempting, too -- think lobster bisque finished with lobster ravioli and port wine syrup; Skuna Bay salmon salad with mango and avocados in honey-cumin dressing; and a hefty chopped salad with applewood-smoked bacon, baby shrimp, tomatoes, haricot verts, onions, avocados and onions cloaked in sweet-spicy vinaigrette.

Entrees are seafood- and steak-centric with options that include a lightly dressed New England-style lobster roll, bouillabaisse and Singapore-style tuna with curried shrimp noodles, cilantro and spicy plum-chile sauce.

However, you'd be remiss if you bypassed the crispy Stevens Point lager-battered New England cod sandwich. Finished with slaw and green goddess dressing on a pillowy roll, it arrives with a side of sweet-tangy house-pickled vegetables.

Alternately, seasonal-feeling specials like tilapia atop sweet potato purée with brussels sprouts, cranberries and zippy cider vinaigrette don't disappoint.

On the turf side, choose from the likes of grilled filet with herb-roasted potatoes and Madeira sauce; Australian lamb chops with herbed kabocha polenta, red wine sauce, roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower cream; and red wine-braised short ribs with crispy onions and autumnal vegetables.

For dessert, there's the predictable (appropriately tart Key lime pie) and more surprising (blood orange mascarpone cheesecake nestled in a pistachio crust). There's also comforting white chocolate-apricot bread pudding with blackberry gelato and salted caramel budino finished with chocolate cookie crumbles as well as Vermont maple sugar cotton candy.

Expect an expertly sourced, Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winning wine list, to boot. Not to be overlooked is the bar menu, which is half off during happy hour Monday through Friday.

Throughout our meal, professional service elevated the experience at this gem, a suburban spot worth returning to again and again.

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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