Wholesome bites await at Vernon Hills' new Next Door American Eatery
Kimbal Musk, brother of Tesla's Elon Musk, has brought his restaurant business to Illinois, specifically to Mellody Farms in Vernon Hills, with the opening of Next Door American Eatery. The bar and bistro serves sustainably sourced, unprocessed food alongside a menu of community initiatives, including a drive to be zero-waste, hosting a partnership with a nonprofit food literacy and learning garden program, and special Monday nights when 25 percent of the profits go to local schools.
The menu has a farm-fresh feel, highlighting local meats and vegetables in a selection of sandwiches, burgers, salads, rice bowls, chicken bites and veggie-centric appetizers, many of which are gluten-free friendly. At the full bar, you can choose from about a dozen craft cocktails, all-local craft beers and wines.
Our appetizers were the roasted balsamic beets, roasted broccoli salad, calamari and pork green chili. The beets were cut into big chunks, served in a small bowl with crumbled feta and toasted almonds. It was refreshing; I don't normally like the tang of feta, but it worked here, cutting through the sweetness of the beets. A few more crunchy almonds would have improved the dish, but overall it was pretty satisfying.
Fans of old-style pasta salad will like the roasted broccoli salad -- it tastes just like it except with the vegetable instead of the pasta. It's made with the spicy sesame house aioli and topped with sunflower seeds, giving it a slightly spicy and nutty flavor. We loved the crunchy coating on the calamari and the mild spice in the dipping sauce, but the pork green chili really won us over. The green color made it unique, but it was also a bit smoky and spicy, with big chunks of tender meat. A lime crema on top added a touch of sweetness to round it out.
For dinner, we had the salmon burger, the Impossible Burger, the bacon Cuban and the honey sriracha crispy gulf shrimp bowl. All of the sandwiches and burgers come with a nicely tart salad of greens and lemon vinaigrette, plus either kettle-cooked chips or fries -- both fairly standard compared to other restaurants. The salmon burger was a bit dry, a frustration slightly relieved by pickled onions, cucumber chunks and a small amount of spicy sesame aioli. The bacon Cuban, a pressed sandwich with a mix of roasted pork, bacon, swiss, mustard and pickles, had a lot of meat and a nice blend of flavors. The vegan Impossible Burger was topped with mushrooms, roasted onions and Thousand Island dressing. Overall, we enjoyed our sandwiches -- but we all agreed the toppings were lacking in quantity and there was far from enough sauce. We each had to ask for more.
We enjoyed the honey sriracha crispy gulf shrimp bowl served with brown rice, roasted broccoli, pickled carrots and a cilantro slaw. The shrimp was cooked well and had a nice crunch to it, and everything blended well in the bowl.
Dessert was simple, an ice cream cookie sandwich -- which was a combination of the two other desserts, ice cream and a warm cookie. It had a nostalgic feel to it that I really enjoyed, though the chocolate chip cookie was too crumbly to eat the dessert by hand.
One of the standouts at Next Door is the service. Our waitress was phenomenal -- friendly and fun, and always willing to give us samples of any sauce or soup we wanted to try. That alone will make me go back; it's nice to be treated like family by a complete stranger.
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Next Door American Eatery
899 N. Milwaukee Ave., #100, Vernon Hills, (224) 360-1750, nextdooreatery.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.