Well-executed seasonal menu, stellar service stand out at Park Ridge's Pennyville Station

Park Ridge residents are definitely keen on a farm-to-table concept in their town if the popularity of Pennyville Station on a recent early Saturday evening visit is any indication. Arriving around 5:30 p.m. without a reservation, we were welcomed to a table in the rear of the new eatery but requested a high top across from the open kitchen. (The hind end of the restaurant lacks windows and the charm of the buzzy bar and main dining area.) Within the hour, hungry diners were waiting for a table anywhere from the small outdoor patio to the quiet cavern in the back.

Founded by Park Ridge native Tony Antonacci, the New American restaurant was dubbed “Pennyville” in homage to Park Ridge's original name. The 124-seat dining room and 16-seat copper-topped bar sport a bright modern design accented with sparkly chandeliers, reclaimed design accents of pottery, candelabras and eclectic light fixtures as well as images from the Park Ridge Historical Society. Check out the custom-made bar sign fashioned from thousands of pennies donated by locals.

To start, my dining partner ordered a frosty glass of Revolution Anti Hero beer ($6), and I opted for a summery St. George and Basil ($13) concocted from St. George Botanivore Gin, muddled basil, St. Germain, grapefruit and fresh-squeezed lemon. Served in a coupe glass, the cocktail was smooth and refreshing. Next time, I'd go for a trendy Frosé (Rosé, Tito's vodka, fresh strawberries, honey and lemon for $11). The cocktail list will change to reflect seasonal flavor combinations and ingredients (just like the food options). Wine by the glass ranges from $9-$15.

When I asked if the pot stickers starter was prepared in-house, our server, clad in a uniform of flannel, jeans and apron, was candid that they were not. Although the lemon basil hummus ($10) served with honey comb, pita bread, watermelon radish and purple top turnip was appealing, we went for the chopped salad, which the kitchen split for us. The salad, a mélange of ruffled lettuce, avocado, sweet corn, chick peas, tomato, sweet onion, hearts of palm and feta served with champagne-raspberry vinaigrette, was a tasty launch. Other openers include backyard wings ($12) with your choice of interesting sauces; shishito peppers and corn ($11) bathed in Parmesan butter sauce with lime and paprika; and greens like heirloom tomato; beet and burrata; and Brussels sprout salad that you can jazz up with proteins like chicken or salmon.

  Pennyville Station's shishito and corn starter comes in a Parmesan butter sauce with lime and paprika. Joe Lewnard/

We noted a number of fish tacos exiting the open kitchen, so we followed the crowd in ordering. The three corn tortillas were filled with grilled cod crowned with jicama slaw, roasted tomatillo salsa and queso fresco. After nodding in approval as we shared two of them, I toted one to-go that was similarly applauded by my son. The bright flavors, presentation and menu-choice satisfaction assuaged my initial impression that $14 was a bit steep for three tacos. Vegetarians can enjoy the same experience with an order of cauliflower tacos.

We had to try one of executive chef Jose “Mosquito” Alvarez's “specialties,” which include Copper River salmon, Walleye pike and Ahi tuna. If it wasn't a warm day in August, I'd be all over the pappardelle with shredded braised short rib and a purée of carrot, sweet onion and celery ($22). The gnocchi ($15) with roasted squash and goat cheese in a moat of sage butter sauce was, indeed, a lighter option, and one that I would not choose to share next time because, well, brown butter sauce.

  The filling gnocchi is accompanied by roasted squash and goat cheese in a sage butter sauce at Pennyville Station. Joe Lewnard/

Alvarez (who, like Antonacci, is an alum of Chicago's Tavern On Rush) does impressive work with seasoning. Everything we ordered was flavorful, not overly salted and beautifully plated on winsome dinnerware.

Other entrees meriting stomach space for heartier appetites include a one-pound double-bone hickory smoked in-house Duroc pork chop ($19) accompanied by zesty apple sauce and bacon cauliflower mash; St. Louis ribs from White Marble Farms-Midwest; and grilled 12-ounce skirt steak served with sautéed cremini and shiitake mushrooms and onions ($29) from Strauss Farms in Franklin, Wisconsin. Winning shareable sides include mushroom risotto; Brussels sprouts with bacon; and broccolini with garlic aioli. Note housepickled vegetables and house-cured bacon sprinkled throughout dinner items as well.

Lucky kids can choose among grilled or breaded chicken strips; mac and cheese; mini burgers; and shells with peas ($6 each) that are accompanied with a healthy cauliflower mash or grapes.

  For a sweet treat, end with Pennyville Station's hot brownie served with fudge drizzle and vanilla ice cream. Joe Lewnard/

When sweater weather ensues, I'd surely give the two-dessert menu another look for comforting homemade coconut cream pie or hot brownie a la mode.

Pennyville Station hops on the popular brunch wagon from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends offering favorites like chilaquiles, seasonal sandwiches and Nutella French toast well as innovative turns such as quinoa porridge with egg whites, pistachio, roasted vegetables, goat cheese and brown sugar and the robust Middle Eastern egg and tomato dish Shakshouka. Add fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies, hand-pressed juice or a frozen peach Bellini for a fine end-of-the summer culinary experience.

Another plus: Pennyville Station is right across the street from the Metra Station, so out-of-towners riding the train can have another Bloody Mary or a tart Greyhound cocktail.

For its great looks, heartfelt service and well-executed seasonal menu, Pennyville Station is worth your dime.

Pennyville Station

112 Main St., Park Ridge, (847) 720-4841,

<b>Cuisine:</b> New American

<b>Setting:</b> Eclectic, urban

<b>Hours:</b> 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

<b>Prices:</b> Appetizers: $10-$14; entrees: $17-$29; handhelds: $12-$19; salads $12-$14, $4-$7 extra for chicken or salmon; sides: $7; dessert: $9

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

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