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An Abt Choice

Jölane's Café and Wine Bar might be operated by one of the North Shore's most elite electronics stores, but it happens to be an ideal option for budget-conscious diners.

By Sherman Kaplan

For a restaurant that just recently celebrated its first birthday, Jölane's Café and Wine Bar has a very long history. Its origins stretch back to 1906 and the birth of Jölane Fischmann on the Austrian-Hungarian border. As a young girl the plucky, independent Fischmann came to America, where she eventually married, raised a family and experienced the kind of immigrant success story usually reserved for Frank Capra movies.

Jölane and her husband, David, opened a small electronics store in Chicago during the heart of the Depression and gradually grew it into something of a North Shore icon, a landmark we all know as Abt Electronics and Appliances in Glenview.

In June 2007, Jölane's son, Robert, who now runs the business, built a small strip mall just south of the megastore on Milwaukee Avenue for new business, reserving just enough space to build a restaurant in memory of his mother in February 2008.

The space has the feel of a European café - and a collection of frosted chocolate desserts that would have made the Hapsburgs giddy.

Shortly after opening, Jölane's welcomed chef John des Rosiers, previously of Bank Lane Bistro in Lake Forest, to tweak the menu, but des Rosiers has left, leaving a void that has not been wholly filled by his successors.

Nonetheless, Jölane's is a welcome addition to the North Shore dining scene, especially for its budget-conscious menu. Most entrées fall under the $20 threshold, and all include a delicious homemade soup or salad and two side dishes. Even the breadbasket is a bounty of hard-crusted Italian bread and slices of raisin bread reminiscent of the Old World.

While an appetizer is hardly necessary, we were curious enough to do some tasting, sampling a Maryland crab cake with chipotle aïoli (the aïoli was unnecessary due to the cake's inherent flavor) and one of the cafe's four flat breads, a pesto-topped crisp with pine nuts, chopped tomatoes and mozzarella that was flavorful but flabby in terms of its texture. Other appetizers range from seared ahi tuna to tiny Black Angus beef burgers with cheese, onions and mushrooms. There is even something listed as a "European Picnic" that brings together feta cheese, pickled cauliflower and plump Cerignola olives with chunky garlic bread.

Soups, featured on a revolving list, are always fresh (try the creamy, delicious chicken corn chowder if available), and the salads (such as a red beet salad with walnuts, Gorgonzola, arugula and balsamic vinaigrette) are all well-executed. Jölane's Austrian-Hungarian roots are evident in the house's beef brisket, chicken schnitzel and short ribs, the latter two requiring slightly more flavorful sauces. On the other hand, the pan-seared whitefish with a generous sprinkle of paprika was all this adaptable fish can be. And the house-named crêpe lasagna with mild sausage, sweet ricotta and fresh basil sounded somewhat contrived but proved to be the evening's most flavorful dish.

Other entrées include wood-grilled filet mignon and roasted Amish free-range chicken, while our sides, steamed broccoli and asparagus, were perfectly fresh.

Proving that Jölane's has what it takes for casual or family dining, there's a welcome children's menu and plenty of desserts. I normally would not make much of desserts brought in from outside the restaurant's kitchen, but with Julius Meinl Viennese pastries, strudels and fine coffees available, I think no explanation is necessary. The wine list is good but could use a few more by-the-glass options.

Expect to spend about $50 a couple plus add-ons for what on balance is a casual, somewhat unique dining experience.

1100 N. Milwaukee Ave., Glenview, 847/375-6986,


Copyright© 2009 North Shore Magazine

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