Let me tell you about the most amazing restaurant you haven’t heard of. I live in the far west suburbs of Chicago. I mean, there’s a cornfield behind my house. An hour west of Chicago feels like a few days from the city. However, we can drive about 30 minutes east and find incredible restaurants. Enter…Hardware Restaurant.
Hardware is in North Aurora, Illinois. It’s sort of out in the middle of nowhere, but with plenty of other restaurants and shopping nearby. Every time I eat there I think to myself, They should be in the city. Their food is almost too good to be way out here. The thing is, they need space for their place.
Hardware has a greenhouse right onsite where they grow their own produce all year round. When you sit in the bar area you can see all of the beautiful greens growing in the greenhouse. It’s refreshing to see on a cold northern Illinois winter day. They also have little micro-orchards around the property where they grow their own nuts and fruits. Have you ever met a restaurant that does that? In the summer, when you pull in and see all the foliage, much of it in containers on the exterior walls, it just looks pretty. Then when you get closer and realize they are actually growing a good amount of the food you are about to eat, it’s fascinating. The list goes on.
Sustainability isn’t just a hip term at Hardware. They take action. Hardware brews their own beer, and the hops are grown on site. They even have their own well, so they know where the brewery water comes from. I haven’t even mentioned the food and already you can see, this place is beyond cool.
The interior of Hardware is smart and it represents sustainability as well. If you love a warm atmosphere that makes you question your interior design abilities, this is the place for you. Some of the walls are covered in wood that’s been charred, which matches the fabulous aromas coming from the area where the restaurant is smoking meats. Tables and chairs are arranged so you feel the energy of the crowd yet can hear each other speak at your own table. They’ve done well with the acoustics in such a large setting. Everything from the light fixtures down to the flooring are artistic and well thought out. You’ll know as soon as you pull into the parking lot that you’re in for a unique experience. Hardware has managed to create a vibe that’s rustic, warm, yet hip and modern. Literally, you’ll even enjoy the restroom experience where sinks sit atop old kegs. Hardware is one of those restaurants where you can enjoy a lovely evening out in a little black dress or a sport coat, but you can also take a seat in your favorite jeans.
About the food — it’s incredible. We are sort of food snobs and feel Hardware is some of the best food you’ll taste anywhere. The charcuterie boards are beautiful and we tend to stuff ourselves on one every time. They include sausages and meats made in house.
Hardware is the only place, ever in my life, where I get excited about a salad. On their salad menu is a smoked gouda tart salad. We tried it one day out of curiosity because, you know, it had cheese in it. What shows up is a tiny little tart filled with smoked gouda and caramelized onions, hidden under a bed of Hardware’s microgreens that are tossed in a lovely vinaigrette dressing, pickled red onions, and some fig jam. First of all, just the salad is the best tasting salad you’ll ever have. I love a chef who understands flavor. Then, after being good and eating all your greens, the gouda tart is like dessert. My husband and I say, “Mmmm” an embarrassing number of times while eating it.
There are fun small plates to share, and I guarantee you’ll see offerings there you’ve never seen before. The entrees are delicious, and I appreciate that the portions aren’t ridiculous (less waste). Everything served at Hardware focuses on which fresh ingredients are available. Everything is seasonal while many items, of course, can be served all year round.
I could go on about every unique and perfect menu item, but I’ll let you see for yourself. However, please also try the teriyaki bacon with watermelon. On to the drinks…
If we want a cocktail made the way it should be, we go to Hardware (sometimes after church which feels a little wrong). Truth be told, my husband has become an amateur mixologist because the following weekend I usually ask him to recreate what we drank at Hardware. No pressure.
They have all the classics as well as their own creations. I have a vintage soul so I tend to order anything that sounds like it would be on the set of Casablanca or bring me a step closer to looking like Ingrid Bergman. Just trust me, the cocktails here do not disappoint. Then there’s the whiskey and whisky collection. If you sit at the bar, they all decorate the wall and it’s pretty fun to read as many as you can and look for new one’s you haven’t tried. Hardware boasts 400 whiskeys from all over the world.