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Northwest Side Review: Sabatino's

By Amelia Levin in Food on Mar 19, 2007 5:30PM


Sabatino’s hasn’t seemed to have changed much in the last, oh maybe 20 to 30 years. But you know what? That’s a great thing.

MVC-020F.jpgCharm is the word of the day at the Portage Park hotspot. A front bar boasts wood-paneled walls, dotted with signed photos of mob actors and celebs with the restaurant’s owners, while the back dining room—two large rooms to be exact—feature beige colors and soft lighting, paintings of Italian scenes, and romantic, vintage furniture circa 1975, plus two dining “coves” where couples cuddle up at candlelit tables. Perhaps that’s how Sabatino’s got its reputation for being the date place of the Northwest Side.

The second word--or words, we should say--of the day is “old school.” Perhaps it’s the décor, or the maybe the clientele—elder women in track jackets and aviator glasses alongside elder men donning sport coats and thick Chicago accents mix with young couples from the neighborhood, and others who’ve discovered the gem. Think retro meets nouveaux, sans pretension or attitude—despite a little Chicago around the edges, people and staff here are just plain nice.

Once you try the food, though, you’ll see why Sabatino’s reigns as one of the top, traditional Italian joints around the city.

P1010107.JPGExtra large plates come with generous portions of homemade pastas, tomato sauces, steaks, veal, and other goodies. On this visit, Chicagoist shared with friends and tried the lasagna, veal braciole, veal alla toscano, and the fettucini Alfredo after amazingly making a choice among the seven pages of tempting menu items. The clear winner was the melt-in-your-mouth lasagna—homemade, delicate sheets of pasta stacked high with layers of ground beef marinara and ricotta cheese, crowned with golden brown mozzarella cheese.

The veal braciole--pounded veal steak rolled tightly with Italian sausage and prosciutto--was dry and we couldn’t taste anything but the veal. The veal alla toscano was better—paper thin slices of veal in a lemon sauce with halved artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes in a light wine sauce. The fettucini Alfredo was simple, but sinfully rich and delicious. One thing to remember, come hungry--in addition to your giant-sized entrée, you get pizza bread, soup and salad to start. And you might want the tasty baked clam or calamari app.

2flambe.jpgWe’re troopers, though, so all this didn’t stop us from ordering dessert. Here’s a secret: at Sabatino’s, “it’s everyone’s birthday,” so mention someone’s big day to staff and everyone gets a slice of the baked Alaska with a sparkler. Feeling honest, we skipped the b-day celebrations and ordered a banana flambé to share, plus got a cool show to boot—a suit-wearing staff member cooked the heavenly treat of caramelized bananas and caramel tableside amidst shooting flames and a little end-of-the-night excitement.

With huge portions of great food at modest prices, excellent service and a relaxed crowd, Sabatino’s has definitely drawn in flocks of regulars. This is apparent, though, on weekend nights when crowds pack the bar area even up until 10 p.m. A final tip: make a reservation, check in with the hostess/owner, and cozy up at the bar with a drink. They’ll call your name on the PA system so you’re good. In the meantime you might make a few friends, and become a new regular.

Sabatino’s, located at 4441 W. Irving Park Rd., is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.; Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and Sundays from noon to 10 p.m. Call 773-283-8331 for highly recommended reservations.