Staying out near O'Hare International Airport on an early Spring trip to Chicago, I wasn't feeling myself all day long. The long, cold Winter was trying to hang on and the wind off Lake Michigan was bone-chilling. I felt like I needed some comfort food for dinner that evening to take off the edge. I was told about a small place in Des Plaines by the name of Sunrise Grill by one of the sales guys at Music Direct a while back. I decided to give the Sunrise Grill a try that night.
The Sunrise Grill is a rather unique place. It's a small coffee shop/cafe in a small strip mall on E. Touhy Ave. in Des Plaines (see map) and they do breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, their dinner menu is unlike any small coffee shop that I've been to. It's then that owner/chef Jose Medina gets to spread his culinary wings. Medina opened the Sunrise Grill in 2008 after being the head chef at the Summit of Uptown, an upscale retirement home in nearby Park Ridge. He is joined in the restaurant by his wife, Maria. They serve dinner Tuesday thru Saturday night until 9 p.m. with the restaurant opening for breakfast most days at 6:00 a.m. (7:00 a.m. on Sundays.)
Years ago, I had a boss that said that a restaurant in a strip mall isn't worth eating at. I've since found that is a narrow minded view as over the years I've found some surprising places in strip malls that have fabulous food. I was told that Sunrise Grill was one of those places. I pulled up in front of the place around 7:30 one blustery evening. I was greeted by a server who said I could pretty much pick out where I wanted to sit. A row of booths were along the front windows and the east wall with a number of chairs with tables in the middle part of the room. Twin doors entered into a second dining area that is used for private parties and overflow when the restaurant fills up. And I understand it fills up rather quickly.
Each night, Sunrise Grill has a series of dinner specials - most nights they're posted on their Facebook page. A lady server came over to bring me some water and drop off a menu. She pointed out the specials that night on a board near the front counter. "It's pasta night," she said. And it smelled pretty damned good in there. In fact, I thought I could smell garlic as I got out of my car in front of the place. The garlic scent hit me when I opened the door.
The three pasta specials that night were a shrimp and orzo primavera - orzo pasta with asparagus, cherry tomatoes and wilted lettuce in a rich housemade marinara sauce topped with grilled shrimp; a grilled chicken breast with a housemade alfredo sauce and linguine; and pasta shells stuffed with meat and cheese and baked, then topped with their marinara sauce. Both the grilled chicken alfredo and the stuffed pasta shells sounded great.
Their main dinner menu features such diverse culinary choices such as a lamb shank, skirt steak, pan-seared center-cut pork chops, bone-in short ribs, or sauteed salmon. As I said, this was not your typical greasy spoon diner in a strip mall.
But I was needing something more along the lines of a good ol' "stick-to-your-bones" meal. If you're looking for a hot beef sandwich, they don't have it at Sunrise Grill. But they do have beef stroganoff. And that's what I ordered. I got a house salad with that and I had my choice of five or six dressings. I ended up getting the creamy French dressing.
My server brought out my salad along with a small basket of garlic bread. The salad featured a mix of greens with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions topped with a thin crouton. The creamy French dressing was all right - I couldn't tell if it was housemade - but the salad, itself, had a lot of taste sensations going on.
The garlic bread was oven toasted and topped with some Italian seasonings and a slight amount of garlic. The bread was crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. It was very good.
I had just finished up my salad when she brought out the beef stroganoff. The presentation would rival many upscale restaurants that I've been to. The beef stroganoff was in a large bowl with a wide rim that was sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley. The beef tenderloin tips were sauteed and placed on a bed of small noodles, then it was topped with a housemade mushroom sauce and a dollop of sour cream.
The taste was exquisite. The beef tips were tender and flavorful. The noodles were cooked perfectly, but the mushroom sauce was to die for. It had a zesty taste, but it wasn't overpowering like some mushroom sauces can be. I knew it would be way too much food for me to eat and I tried to quit a couple three times. But each time I went back and got another fork full to draw up to my mouth. When my server came over to check on me, I pushed the bowl away and said, "Please, take this away before I eat more." At that point I had - maybe - two bites left. The beef stroganoff at Sunrise Grill was - quite simply - a spot hitter.
Sunrise Grill is a BYOB place - they encourage you to bring in your own bottle of wine or beer, and they'll open the wine for you at no charge if you don't have a bottle opener. The food I had at Sunrise Grill was surprisingly good - but I was warned by the guy at Music Direct that it would knock my socks off. And it certainly did. The Sunrise Grill is certainly a big tip from the road that Road Tips is designed to bring its readers. It's truly a hidden gem in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.