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Walk into D'Agostino's Pizza and Pub on a Monday night and you'll be greeted by a balloon artist creating inflatable puppies and crowns for youngsters. Walk into the Milwaukee Avenue spot on a game day, and you're in for a different experience, one with football on flat screens and craft beers flowing from the taps.
241 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, (847) 808-8200, www.dagsdelivers.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Motif: The D'Agostino family opened an outpost of its famous Wrigleyville pizzeria in the former Hackney's location earlier this year. The bar area and dining rooms feel infinitely brighter. Guests walk into an opening dining room; a smaller room for private parties or overflow is toward the back. A patio with umbrella-topped tables overlooks the parking lot, but if you look past the cars and minivans you can see the woods lining the banks of the Des Plaines River.
The bar area sits on the Milwaukee Road side and is anchored by a wooden bar that runs the length of the room. Large flat screens throughout the space show the game or news of the day without being too obtrusive.
Crowd: Dags' dining room and approachable menu (more on that later) attract a fair number of families. After the families clear out, 20-somethings to 40-somethings settle in for drinks and sports. During recent visits, which admittedly were not during Bears games, the TVs were muted and the music was at a conversation-friendly level.
Food: As you might imagine from the name, pizza and Italian specialties play a large role on the menu. Its thin crust pizza is a shining example of the Chicago style -- not cracker thin but pleasantly crisp with enough weight to support a generous layer of cheese and toppings. The Dags Special is a well-crafted pan pizza, and by that I mean the bottom crust is firm without the side crusts being burned. Topped with sausage, mushroom, green pepper and onion, this is a personal favorite, though the white pizza dressed with olive oil, garlic, sausage and sauteed tri-color peppers certainly shows promise.
The bruschetta is one of a kind with black and green olives tossed into the traditional tomato-onion-basil mix. Step even further outside the box and get feta on top.
The nacho platter was less impressive with melty concession-stand cheese instead of fresh grated cheese.
A variety of sandwiches also are available -- the Caprese panini needed a few shakes of salt to perk it up, but the chicken cordon bleu grinder and burger were well-cooked and seasoned.
There's also entree-worthy salads that reach beyond typical Italian eatery boundaries with names like Southwestern BBQ Chicken Salad and Cranberry Almond Salad.
Liquid consumption: There are about 20 beers -- from the domestic usuals to local and national craft brews -- on tap, and even more available in bottles. And the beer menu is about to expand.
Second-generation restaurateur Jeff D'Agostino said he's unveiling a house-made India pale ale in September; that's right, a beer nano-brewed at the Wheeling location, not contract brewed in someone else's factory. If this brewing experiment goes well, he hopes to roll out signature brews at the Park Ridge and Glenview locations.
Service: The wait staff was professional and knowledgeable with no gaps in service.
Parking: Ample parking is available.
Overall: D'Agostino's is a casual spot where families can fill up on Italian favorites and friends can hang out at night to catch up or catch a game, but its 11 p.m. closing time makes you pray for no overtime or extra innings.