Surrounded by yachts and motor boats in storage until boating season opens in mid-April, Pier 99 Grill & Spirits, a casual roadhouse of sorts on the street side of a marina on the Fox River at 99 Kazimour Drive in Port Barrington, is a friendly place to kick back with a beer or a bite after a hard day of work or play.
Seating offers a choice of bar stools or four-top tables set with black linen tablecloths, butcher paper and black linen napkins -- a classy touch appreciated by diners wearing dark clothing. A flat-screen TV turned to sports usually takes center stage at the bar. Once the weather warms up, outdoor seating on the side porch will open.
Pier 99 Grill & Spirits99 Kazimour Drive, Port Barrington, (847) 382-1366, pier99grillandspirits.com
Cuisine: Upscale pub food
Setting: Casual tavern
Entrees: $13.99 to $26.95
Hours: 3 to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; seasonal lunch hours to be announced
Our good-natured server asked for our drink order a little too soon, before we'd had a chance to peruse the small wine, beer and martini menu. We chose a couple of wines from the compact list, finding the Fox Brook Merlot from Napa Valley to be a good value at $6 a glass.
Chef Edwin Montes has an extensive culinary background, including stints at Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando and Big Bear Lake Resort in Big Bear Lake, Calif. He makes almost everything from scratch.
The food menu offers a diverse mix of appetizers, salads, steaks and chops, chicken, pastas, sandwiches and a few fish. We detected an Italian influence in quite a few dishes, such as the Sicilian pork chop with seasoned Italian bread crumbs, Parmesan and marinara, the fairly lengthy pasta section and the Italian beef and sausage sandwiches.
We began with an appetizer of fresh spinach and artichoke heart dip with three-cheese garlic sauce, served with tortilla chips. The filling dip had excellent flavor, was not too salty and came in a portion large enough for four to five people to share.
Our entrees, also in generous portions, included soup or salad, vegetables and choice of potato, rice or pasta. All of the hot dishes arrived hot, as they should, but we were not warned to wait a minute or two before digging in to avoid burning our tongues.
We started with the day's chicken dumpling soup and the always-available French onion, both of which were very good. The roux-thickened peppery chicken dumpling soup was like one Grandma might have made, containing chunks of several vegetables and the nice Mediterranean touch of black olives.
Another homey choice I made was the roasted half-chicken entree, nicely seasoned with a flavorful spice mix. That day's vegetable was a medley of carrots, zucchini and butternut squash. The carrots were crisp to the bite, but the squashes suffered from overcooking. A side of angel hair pasta with olive oil arrived perfectly al dente.
The New York strip steak came medium-rare, as ordered, but was a bit dry and had a strong charcoal accent. The accompanying garlic mashed potatoes contained just the right amount of garlic.
Other items we were tempted to order, but did not included tilapia crusted with tortilla crumbs and flavored with lime juice and lemon butter sauce, build-your-own burgers, and Italian beef and sausage sandwiches.
The chef recommends the seared ahi tuna appetizer with bok choy, mushrooms, red bell peppers and a touch of wasabi. He also favors the seafood Diablo with marinara sauce, Serrano chilies, mussels, shrimp and calamari.
There is a children's menu, and several young children dining with their parents seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Dessert choices were slim, since two of the usual ones -- the owner's mom's apple pie and the New York-style cheesecake -- were not available that night. We chose the house-made brownie and a dish of two scoops of French vanilla ice cream, which the apologetic server said would be on the house, since our first two choices were not to be had. We appreciated this generous gesture.
This attractive dessert plate contained two triangular slices of the soft brownie, which was more like a moist chocolate cake, drizzled with a light powdered sugar icing and caramel sauce. We were told it's baked in-house, and we had no complaints.
Decaf coffee came in an oversized mug and was freshly brewed.
Overall, the food and service were commendable. This out-of-the-way spot is worth the effort to find it, but I'd advise setting your GPS if you're not familiar with the area.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.