Call me boring, or simply old-fashioned, but “dinner-and-a-movie” date nights have long been one of my favorite ways to spend a Friday night. Normally, I catch a flick at the Charlestowne 18 theater in St. Charles, but the dining scene in that area is largely comprised of franchises and chain restaurants; something I try to avoid if it can be helped.
So, when I heard of an ale house popping up in the site of the former Bennigan’s directly across the street from the Charlestowne Mall, I got excited. My only hope was that the food would be just as worthy of a visit as the beer. Turns out it is.
After having already visited the Spotted Fox Ale House once and liked it enough to go back a second time, I decided to do a Mystery Diner column about my third visit.
Serving upscale American contemporary cuisine and 30 craft beers on tap, prices at the Spotted Fox (simply advertised as Ale House on the side of its building to passersby) remain competitive with other area eateries.
I rolled into a packed parking lot – always a good sign – around 7:30 p.m. on a Friday evening.
I approached the hostess who greeted me with a kind smile despite the controlled chaos equivalent to that of any popular restaurant on a busy night.
“It’ll be about a 30-minute wait,” she informed me.
I hesitated as I calculated the amount of time my dining companion and I would have before the start of the 9 p.m. showing of “Django Unchained.”
“OK, that should be fine,” I answered.
As the hostess scribbled my name, I glanced over at the 30-seat bar looking for a place to plop, but nearly every seat was accounted for.
My dining companion arrived and shortly after we nabbed a couple of seats at a high-top table steps away from the bar – strangely enough, it was the same table I’ve sat at for all three of my visits.
The Ale House’s open-floor plan gives the place a relaxed vibe. With heavy-handed masculine features, such as rich woods and dark leather custom-made furniture, the interior provides a perfect setting for beer-drinking and game watching on one of the plethora of flat-screen TV’s uniformly dispersed throughout the space. Somehow it simultaneously manages to pull off sleek and sophisticated with bamboo walls and ambient lighting.
The waiter showed up in no time at all despite the rush.
First order of business would have been drinks – but not on the job! So, I’ll refer to my previous experience with Ale House libations. On previous visits, I sampled The Lefthanded Milk Stout ($6), a deliciously cool and creamy dark brew perfect for dessert and quite filling. And I have to say, the Ale House bar staff knows how to shake up a decent cocktail. Funnily enough, the next time I want a Cosmo done right, I’m heading to the Ale House.
On to appetizers, we ordered the Buffalo Chicken dip ($9.99) with house-made corn tortilla chips on a recommendation from our waiter. He also recommended the Fried Pickles ($4.99) and Calamari ($10.99) – maybe another time.
Another app that looked intriguing was the Sliders – a trio of either pot roast with gruyere cheese, crispy pork belly with pickles, or a cheeseburger with crispy shallots for $9.99.
The menu has everything from sandwiches and panini’s to salads, burgers, pastas and fish.
Previously, I ordered the Pesto Panini ($10.99) layered with grilled chicken breast, ripe red tomatoes and shaved red onion with a fresh pesto drizzle, and loved it!
The California Panini with oven-roasted turkey breast served with bacon, guacamole and ranch dressing ($10.50) was also good. But I was in the mood for something more stick-to-your ribs so as to not give into my weakness for movie-theater popcorn later in the evening.
I opted for the simply stated Mac N Cheese. But simple it was not. The dish included cavatappi pasta, house-made cheese sauce with white truffle oil and the trendy foodie-favorite – crispy pork belly ($11). My dining companion ordered the Parmesan Chicken ($10.99) with braised tomatoes and white wine butter sauce served with seasonal vegetables (broccoli in this case) and a twice-baked potato.
The Buffalo Chicken Dip – which was only mildly spicy – paired nicely with the corn tortilla chips. We learned a quarter of the way in to dunk deeply so as to catch each of the dip’s layers of herb cream cheese, breaded buffalo chicken, Chihuahua cheese and pico de gallo. With the dip mostly depleted, our entrees arrived.
One word to describe my Mac N Cheese – rich! Extremely rich. I can usually eat any one of my dining companions under the table, but only a few bites in, and I was finished. If you’re not a fan of pork belly, no matter how appetizing the truffle oil may sound, I would pass on this one – especially if you savor the traditional taste of Mac N Cheese, because this is not your average mac.
The Parmesan Chicken came with a heaping amount of food. And not one, but two large Parmesan encrusted chicken breasts piled on top of one another. The chicken was succulent and tender. The broccoli was cooked to perfection – flavorful, nice coloring and crispy.
My next visit will probably include the Blackened Tacos ($11.25) with shrimp or fish or one of the eight different burgers gracing the menu such as The Fox – a burger with Angus beef, applewood-smoked bacon, a fried egg, white cheddar and fried shallot strings ($10.25) or possibly the Swiss Mushroom ($10.99) topped with sauteed mushrooms, ale-braised onions and Swiss cheese.
Spotted Fox Ale House has something for everyone. The ingredients are trendy as well as seasonal, and the food is varied and creative while tipping a hat to American-food favorites.
Whether you hunker down for pre-game football food and drink, pop in on the way to a movie or for some mid-shopping sustenance, the Spotted Fox can accommodate.
Spotted Fox Ale House
Address: 3615 E. Main St., St. CharlesPhone: 630-584-2239Website: spottedfoxalehouse.com Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to midnight Sundays.
• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits different restaurants during the month and then reports on the experience.