Big, bold. Those words describe not only the food, but the dining rooms at Il Poggiolo, a new Italian restaurant in vibrant downtown Hinsdale.
Operated by Jerry Kleiner, the Chicago restaurant magnate behind Carnivale, Gioco, Opera and others, Il Poggiolo - The Balcony - opened in August.
And as is the case at his other restaurants Kleiner put his signature style into Il Poggiolo; you see it in the uber-sized light fixtures in tangerine and crimson, a room-sized mirror that makes it easy to people watch without being obvious and the seemingly randomly placed artwork. Yet if you learn one thing from a visit to one of Kleiner's restaurants, it's that nothing is random. He pays great care to setting the scene, developing the menu and training the staff to deliver a dining experience like no other.
We caught up with Kleiner during the opening weeks of Il Poggiolo and he filled us in on his suburban venture.
Q. With so many successful restaurants in Chicago, why did you decide to venture into Hinsdale?
A. A friend of mine, Peter Burdi, called me up and told me he bought a building in Hinsdale. I went out there thinking that I was going to tell him I'm not doing a restaurant there. I had been in the town many, many years ago and remember a small downtown that really wouldn't be a good fit for one of my restaurants.
But when I arrived, I found the downtown to be incredibly charming and the community to be cute and interesting. It was a very pretty and tranquil area, but the town was quiet and needed something. So my intention was not to do anything in Hinsdale, but once I saw the building with its historic charm, I thought there was really a need.
Q. Describe the building and its interior.
A. The building was designed by Harold R. Zook, a well-known architect in Hinsdale, which makes it a landmark in the community. It was the site of an old theater building, so I wanted to create drama in the space. In designing the space, I really wanted to warm it up and embrace the community. I wanted to respect the integrity of the town and design the restaurant almost as a reflection of the community.
Overall, I wanted to created something that would stick out like a sore thumb and bring drama, fashion and style to the area, but that was also understood by the Hinsdale community.
Since we were dealing with an old theater, I wanted a balcony, so I created a beautiful mezzanine in the back, from which we got the restaurant name, Il Poggiolo, meaning "the balcony." The two floors really open up the building by giving it height.
Our patio will offer 12 to 16 seats for outdoor dining. We are currently working on perfecting the interior, so next summer we will put tables out there.
As far as private party space goes, the mezzanine area can hold a private function for between 30 and 40 people.
Q. When you walk into a Jerry Kleiner spot it is anything but ordinary. What touches make Il Poggiolo unique?
A. There's a certain essence, level of soul and integrity that you feel when you walk in to one of my restaurants. It may be hard to describe, but it's like stepping into a picture. For the hour and half you are there, you become part of that picture. For Il Poggiolo, in particular, it's the energy field that stands out the most - the feeling that hits you when you walk inside that you can't describe. It's a positive energy that makes you say "Wow, what am I feeling?"
Q. Tell us about chef Jim Kilberg.
A. Jim has worked with me for seven or eight years at places like Gioco and Via Ventuno. He has traveled all over Italy and the world perfecting his craft. There is a connection, an understanding between us, and his creativity and direction with the food is what I'm looking for. Chef Jim is able to create the same art form in his food that I put toward my design of the restaurant.
Q. Describe the menu. Any signature items or twists on traditional dishes?
A. The menu exhibits simple authentic Italian with a Tuscan flair. Chef Jim creates dishes ranging from fresh pastas to even the thin pizzas.
One of our signature dishes is the Chitarra Bolognese, handmade pasta with a Tuscan meat ragu. A twist on a traditional dish is our Melanzane con Mozzerella which is a fresh, dainty play on eggplant Parmesan.
Q. What is the average price for appetizers? Entrees?
A. As you look at the menu, you will see a lot of affordable items and tons of price points. We're here for the long haul. We're not there to take advantage of anybody. During this economic time, we really want to make people feel comfortable with what they're spending.
An average appetizer costs between $7 and $8. An average entree, can be from $17 to $20.
Q. Will Il Poggiolo offer special dinners? Entertainment?
A. There are specials offered daily to keep everything fresh and to give our regular customers new choices. We also offer a five-course tasting menu consisting of antipasti, insalate, a primi course, a secondi course and dolci.
Presently, the crowd itself creates for a great show, so additional entertainment isn't necessary, however, it may be considered for the future.
Q. Any plans for other suburban spots?
A. Not as of right now. If it is the right type of building, anything is possible.
8 E. First St., Hinsdale, (630) 734-9400, ilpoggiolohinsdale.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday