Oak Park has a large number of Italian restaurants: Vivaldi, Cucina Paradiso, Gepettos, La Bella, Mancinis, Alonti, Leonas, Pronto Roma (which counts), a few Italian beef (Mickys, Michaels, Buona) probably eight pizza joints (Amatos, Pizza Palazzo, Purees, Giordanos and more Dominos than I want to think about) plus the soon-to-be opened Pasta Shoppe. Vivaldi seemed to hold promise, but I stopped going when I kept getting the same creamy tomato sauce on everything; Cucina Paradiso is the only restaurant in Oak Park that has ever prompted me to return a menu item on grounds of inedibility (it was pumpkin soup, and it was horrible), and Gepettos is fine, its a great value, but I dont think youll find anyone who raves about their food.
Last week, Rob and family and Carolyn and I went to Jimmys Place in Forest Park. Its a bar/restaurant with maybe 14 tables. Ive gone by this place a hundred times, and figured it was just a bar (which, if you know that stretch of Madison in Forest Park, is not exactly a distinguishing feature).
First time, had the escarole and bean soup and braciole ($13.95 all entrees come with soup or salad). Outstanding. The soup was clearly homemade, and the braciole well, local restaurant rumor is that guys from Vivaldi, etc., come to Jimmys for the braciole, which is a flank steak, stuffed with some mint, parsley, pignolas, and Parmesan cheese. Its a fine and flavorful way to prepare an inexpensive cut of meat, and its the kind of authentic home style Italian Ive never found in Oak Park.
Went back on Friday night and had mussels in chunky marinara, rapini and cannelli beans, and what was called spicy linguine, which was piquant, with artichokes, red and green peppers. All very good. The spicy linguine ($11.95) in particular was tasty: had a very light sauce, which I believe is the preference of the chef here, and a strong undercurrent of garlic (hey, its Italian). Jimmys also serves a Gorgonzola Alfredo, and the waitress assured us that this, too, had a very light sauce (which would be good, as most Alfredo is way too heavy, at least to my taste).
Then Sunday night I went with my teenage daughter and had clams in marinara, eggplant parmagiana ($8.95) and braciole. Braciole was as good as I remembered, but the clams were just a little too salty (and Im a heavy salt user I think the chef neglected to correct the sauce for the salty clams). The eggplant parmagiana was just as it should be: light breading, light cheese, thin slices of eggplant, over mostacciolli. Pasta is always done right on the lighter side of al dente.
Ive been ordering off the daily menu board, but the regular menu has the usual line-up of Italian food: pizza, lasagne, meatball sandwiches, etc, with a few interesting items (e.g., homemade cavetelli).
There is a short wine list (though I went with the Wild Turkey Manhattan) very reasonable prices on bottles (in the teens to twenties which is not bad, though I did not recognize many of the names). But, hey, this is pretty much an old time bar/restaurant, so I wouldnt come here for the wine (I wouldnt be surprised if you can BYOB).
Wait staff is really very nice its like going to the familys house to eat. And just like going to your moms for dinner, you can count on bringing some home (orders are generous, though not overwhelming). Also, the television is always on.
The chef (Jimmy? Probably) has been there every night and he seems to know a lot of the regulars. I dont know if you fantasize about owning a restaurant, but if I ran one, Id serve this kind of plate-proud-without-being-pretentious, simple and honest fare to a neighborhood crowd.
Overall, Id say this is about as good as home-style Italian gets in Oak Park/Forest Park/River Forest.
7411 W. Madison Street
Forest Park, IL 60130
PS. If you do go to Jimmys Place for dinner and dont feel like sticking around in their very genial bar, theres a vast number of friendly Irish taverns in the area (I think I counted about 8 or 9 on Madison between Des Plaines and Harlem Healys, Molly Malones, Horans, Shanahans, Doc Ryans, etc.).