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by Richard C. Ross

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My love for eating in the out-of-doors likely started when I was  barely old enough to remember.  It  seemed as if we were always going on a family picnic, or sitting at the back yard picnic table enjoying a light snack with neighbors... at least in the months warm enough to do those things.  And, as I have gotten older, I have been fortunate enough to  have sampled the patio offerings in numerous locations around the country and, no matter the state, venue or menu, there is just something about that outdoor meal that is irresistible.  Living in the Midwest does have its perks... and its drawbacks, too (read: the weather!).  So outdoor dining is necessarily limited to the warmer months.

OK... so March this year was historically the warmest March on record, and now April feels like we're back in February.  (My mother always told me that "spring is never officially here until the mellow breezes of May are blowing...")   And it looks like she was right again, because the forecast  -- at least according to Intellicast.com -- doesn't even show another 70-degree day until the end of April!  But hey, we're almost there.  So it is definitely time to give outdoor dining another look.  Why?  Because the Fox Valley offers an incredibly diverse set of opportunities for patio dining.

I'm not certain when or where the first outdoor dining became available in the Fox Valley; my first recollection though, goes back to about 1974.  I was working at the Mill Race Inn in Geneva and then managers Bobbi and Tim Mooney got an idea to set up  an outdoor "bar" (really no more than a table, glasses and a few basic brands of alcohol and mixes) so I could serve the overflow crowd during a Mother's Day brunch on what was to be a warm spring day.  It was hugely successful, and eventually led to Tim's vision to create the rudiments of what would years later become the famous Gazebo that most folks in the area remember: a place to get some great food and listen to great music near the Fox River.  I departed the Fox Valley for a job in the restaurant business on the west coast, just as things there were really getting going at the Mill Race...

It may not have been the first outdoor dining, but it seemed like it to me.  And it certainly was a popular place to go.  In the 80s and 90s though, competition stiffened and restaurants in the area popped up like pimples on a teenager; many of them included an outdoor patio area where dining became almost a way of life during the warmer months of the year.   Just off the top of my head, I came up with at least a dozen or more places offering everything from coffee and a roll to a full-on fine dining experience.   Any time of the day is a good time of day when it comes to patio dining!

Unfortunately, the economic Grim Reaper has come calling on way too many restaurants over the last few years; in January of last year, he paid a visit to the Mill Race Inn, taking the life of a dining legacy at which generations of Fox Valley residents (as well as those from far beyond its borders) have celebrated births, weddings, anniversaries and numerous other events with a fine meal.  The glorious Gazebo is, at least for the time being, only a distant memory.

On a brighter note, the weather is warming -- finally -- and the patio dining season is ready to begin anew.  St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia all offer plenty of outdoor dining possibilities.  Some are directly adjacent to the river; others are not far away from it.  The list is long and I couldn't possibly name them all here.  But the one's shown below should at least give you a heard start.  If you or your favorite spot would care to send me more names, I would be happy to create another page linking to this one to keep the ball rolling.  In the meantime, I've got my fingers crossed that the coming months will be filled with warmer days and plenty of meals on the patios of our favorite spots in the area.  Enjoy!!

 St. Charles:

  • Filling Station Pub & Grill

  • The Office

  • McNally's Irish Pub

  • Za Za Trattoria

Geneva:

  • Fiora's

  • Old Towne Pub

  • Foxfire

  • Bien Trucha

  • Wildwood

  • Claddagh Irish Pub

Batavia:

  • Fox's on the River

  • The RendezVu

  • Gammon Coach House

  • Tribella

Do you have a favorite outdoor dining venue?  Be sure to post it at our On the Fox Facebook page or let us know by e-mail!
 

 

 

 

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