Lazy Dog Vernon Hills offers seasonally inspired dining with a mountain-town vibe
When Chris Simms founded Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, he did it with the mountains in mind. He wanted to share the laid-back vibe of a mountain lodge, complete with pets, seasonal food and conversations by the fire. And now, he's brought that experience to Vernon Hills' new Mellody Farms development, with a restaurant full of exposed wood, natural stone and tree branches.
The menu at Lazy Dog focuses on seasonally inspired American cuisine, pulling in local farmers and producers and making everything else, like the sauces and marinades, from scratch. The menu boasts a wide range of eclectic food, including burgers, pizza, steaks, fish, noodles and dinner salads -- plus a separate seasonal menu of appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Lazy Dog has its own set of house beers and offers a quarterly beer club for craft beer aficionados. The full bar menu has beer, wine, cocktails, liquor and housemade sangria.
Out on the enclosed patio, where the firepit roars and leashed dogs are always welcome, you can order anything off the menu plus a special meal for your furry friend: either hamburger or chicken with rice, or just plain rice, all served with a complimentary bowl of water.
Be sure to call ahead before you go -- we went on a Wednesday night and there was an hour wait.
For appetizers, we ordered the blistered green beans, mac and cheese, Brussels sprouts, chicken tortilla soup and crispy deviled eggs. With both the green beans (made with ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, crushed peanuts, lime, chili paste and herbs) and the Brussels sprouts (lemon, garlic, butter, crispy capers and Romano cheese), we were impressed that the vegetables stayed crisp no matter how they were cooked. Both tasted delicious as well, with tanginess from their respective sauces and balanced seasoning.
The mac and cheese comes served in a cast-iron dish with smoked bacon, Hatch chiles and a green onion crumble. It's made with five different cheeses that makes the sauce extra cheesy, and the toppings all give a nice crunch to it. And don't worry about the chiles -- they aren't that spicy.
My chicken tortilla soup came in a humongous bowl (it was practically a meal on its own), topped with tortilla strips and cheese. The soup wasn't creamy, the toppings were a bit sparse, and the broth could use a bit more seasoning. But the chunks of chicken were large and filling, and it came served with crispy cheese lavash bread that was both delicious and a perfect complement to the soup.
The crispy deviled eggs came off the seasonal menu; the hard white was deep fried and lightly fried, and the yolk was topped with smoked paprika and bacon candy. It was a tasty and unique take on a traditional appetizer; we loved the crunch from the breading and the sweetness of the bacon.
Our entrees included the Black and Blue pizza, the grilled lemon chicken, the barbecue bison meatloaf, the Thai noodles and the fettuccini Alfredo with chicken. We were impressed with all the portion sizes -- it wasn't an obscene amount, but there was enough for leftovers. The crust on the pizza (topped with Cajun chicken breast, smoked bacon, mozzarella, caramelized onions, blue cheese, green onions and tomatoes) was nice and crunchy without being overdone. And all of the flavors balanced nicely.
The grilled lemon chicken came served with cauliflower mash (a table favorite) and sautéed green beans. The chicken was moist and had a nice lemon hit from the marinade.
We were impressed that the bison meatloaf wasn't dry and didn't have too many fillers, and also that the accompanying sautéed spinach was still crisp and not slimy at all. Unfortunately, though, the mashed potatoes were tepid, and everything on the plate could have used more seasoning. The fettuccini Alfredo faced the same issue: The meat was great, but the dish on the whole was bland.
We loved the Thai noodles, made with shrimp, ground chicken, tofu, peanuts, stir-fried egg, bean sprouts and a peanut sauce. It was sweet and slightly spicy, with a lot of chicken and shrimp.
Our desserts were the Simms Family S'more, the butter cake and the banana pudding. The s'more was a unique take on the fireside treat, essentially a brownie sundae with a graham cracker crust, chocolate sauce, a roasted marshmallow and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. For me, it was a bit too far from a s'more to fully enjoy it.
The banana pudding was excellent, with a housemade banana cream pudding topped with Nilla wafers, sliced bananas and whipped cream. We could tell it was homemade because it actually tasted like fresh banana, not the fake banana flavor that comes with so many other banana desserts.
The butter cake, though, stole the show for dessert. It came with minted strawberry compote and vanilla ice cream. And the cake itself was melt-in-your-mouth moist with an almondy kick we were all wild for.
On the whole, we had an excellent time at Lazy Dog. The atmosphere was comfortable, service was great, and we liked the food. We'll definitely be back, but next time with our pets.
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Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
In Mellody Farms, 1115 N. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills, (847) 780-7977 or lazydogrestaurants.com/locations/vernon-hills
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.