A walkway flanked by two towers of fire greets diners on the way into Confetti's in Gurnee. The restaurant at 5101 Washington St. first heated up the Lake County food scene in January, and the enthusiasm hasn't cooled. The parking lot always seems full and our dinner reservation was met with a nearly packed dining room.
Dark wood and maroon walls make the large dining room feel more intimate. The restaurant is both warm and subdued, and, as a shoutout to its name, bright pops of Mardi Gras colors show up in unexpected places -- like the napkins, candle holders and menus -- just like confetti.
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Confetti's Gurnee5101 Washington St., Gurnee, (847) 249-2000, confettisgurnee.com
Cuisine: Traditional American with a Southern bent
Setting: Intimate, bold and warm
Entrees: $9 to $30
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
The relatively quick acclaim may be attributed to chef John Warren's popularity in the area. Warren returns to his hometown to cook at Confetti's, following stints at Midlane Country Club in Wadsworth, the Hilton O'Hare and Allgauer's at the Hilton in Lisle. His 30-year culinary history includes meals prepared for a number of celebrities including Willie Nelson, Michael Jordan, Walter Payton and Neil Armstrong.
Owner Art Lake brings his history as well. He operated the now-shuttered Sundance Saloon, and signed drumheads prominently displayed in the lounge and bar as well as the live music filling the room are a testament to Lake's love of entertainment.
Yet Confetti's cuisine isn't just for rock stars and the rich and famous; it's great for diners looking for American fare with hints of Louisiana flair. A well-rounded menu has options for everyone, and the quality is only enhanced by the restaurant's commitment to using local, fresh ingredients.
The menu lists standard American fare -- seafood, chicken, steaks, burgers and pasta -- yet every section has at least one item with a Southern flair, be it New Orleans shrimp, Cajun-rubbed steak, gumbo or Louisiana chicken pasta. The other dishes are no plain Janes either, each dish boasting at least one ingredient, like Roma tomatoes on the burgers or an apple brandy sauce on the pork chops, to raise the steaks.
We were overjoyed to find warm rolls with softened butter at our table, and even happier to not mangle the bread trying to spread a cold piece. Rosemary in the rolls was a great aromatic counterpoint to the earthiness of my starter, cream of potato soup.
Our quesadilla appetizer was stuffed with bell peppers, red onions and cheese, and grilled to that perfect moment where the crispiness of the tortilla complements the melty interior. It may have been a warm dish, but the freshness of the vegetables along with the sides of sour cream, salsa and guacamole made this one of the most refreshing dishes of the night.
My chicken Marsala also highlighted the freshness of the ingredients used at Confetti's. It came with asparagus that was cooked just right -- not mushy and with a delicate snap. The Marsala sauce was sweet and simmered with mushrooms and shallots, then poured over tender chicken and al dente penne pasta. What was lacking in a slightly less-than-average amount of mushrooms in the sauce was made up for with the sheer size of the portion. I can tell you from experience, the dish heats up wonderfully for lunch the next day.
The Southern BBQ burger, a 10-ounce Cajun-rubbed Black Angus patty topped with hickory barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar and grilled onions, accompanied by freshly salt-and-peppered fries, was quite enjoyable -- once it actually made it to the table without an error. Although the burger left the kitchen incorrectly not once, but three times (first we received just a cheeseburger, then the same burger with barbecue added, then the correct burger but with missing ingredients), the response from the owner was exceptional and commendable. He immediately came over to our table after the first mistake, and kept open dialogue with us and the kitchen to ensure the problem was resolved. He seemed genuinely embarrassed by the issue and removed the burger from our bill.
For dessert we went with the incredibly rich dark chocolate Godiva cheesecake. We were happy to find pockets of milk chocolate chips in the cheesecake to aerate the density a bit, otherwise it may have been too much. And yes, we devoured it.
The wine list is mostly west coast vines, and the beer and martini list are relatively standard. The whiskey and bourbon selection is the drink menu's shining star. It offers several unique and high-quality drinks, both served by glass or in a flight. Martini and wine flights are also available.
All in all it was a satisfying, hearty meal. Local ingredients and the food's freshness give this restaurant a leg up on the competition and draw me back in -- although the customer service and personal attention alone is enough to make me return.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.