Grand Duke's does it big

Tribune staff reporter

First impressions: This Lithuanian restaurant evokes a Medieval aura, with dark wood furniture and appointments, large paintings of royalty (all of it brought from Lithuania) and subdued lighting to summon a castlelike effect. Admittedly, on a recent Saturday visit, the regal decor was at odds with the rollicking atmosphere and overhead TVs. A Friday night visit was calmer but still proved that Grand Duke's is a social spot for the area's substantial Lithuanian community -- a crowd that included families with rowdy kids, designer-clad singles and sedate elderly couples. (On both visits we were among the few not speaking an Eastern European language.) Despite the high traffic, the place was very clean, including the bathrooms.

On the plate: The enormous, bilingual menu (with photos, no less) boasts "authentic Lithuanian and Eastern European Cuisine." Along with items such as zeppelins (football-shaped, meat-filled potato dumplings), lots of beets, herring, mushrooms and cabbage, you'll also find a broader selection of pork, beef, chicken and seafood dishes. It's all made here, even dessert. In what must be in keeping with the East European dining ethic, giant portions are meant to sustain you through a harsh winter.At your service: English was not the first language of our servers but they were fluent enough to answer questions and suggest menu items. Plus, their efficiency and kindness would translate as excellent in any language.

Second helpings: Kybyn, meat-filled baked breads, bring a savory, pleasant start to the meal. On the other extreme, "Fried Bread Hill" is a thoroughly addictive, no-this-isn't-health-food appetizer: stacked rows of garlic-infused, deep-fried bread covered in melted cheese. Spend the extra $2 for soup with your entree; the broth-based red beet and creamy mushroom soups were housemade bliss. As for the entrees, the Lithuanian sausage platter starred three huge, well-seasoned, plump links with tender potatoes and to-die-for sauerkraut that could win over folks who think they don't like pickled cabbage. Although our server described the Fisherman's Dish as "light," the flaky, tender whitefish fillet was covered in a thick layer of creamy, melted rokiskio cheese, a Lithuanian cow's milk cheese. Light? No. Just very good. The substantial pork rolls with chanterelles got a lift from the creamy, savory mushroom sauce and some of the fluffiest mashed potatoes in recent memory. If you have room, the layered richness of the Napoleon torte is delectable.

Take a pass: The zeppelin was decent but the outer potato dumpling a little tough. One dessert, called Whipped Cream Hill, was a one-note wonder (whipped cream over ice cream and spongecake).

Thirst quenchers: The bar menu is huge. In addition to soft drinks, cocktails and wines (mostly domestic but a few Georgian and Armenian varieties), there are 10 to 15 Lithuanian beers. The brews pair beautifully with the menu.

Extras: A basket of rye and pumpernickel bread, which arrives shortly after you do, sets the proper carbohydrate tone. Most entrees include potatoes and vegetable. Breakfast is served daily. Live music is offered Thursdays-Saturdays.

Price range: Appetizers, $2-$10; salads and sandwiches, $3.50-$9; main courses, $6.50-$16; desserts, $3.50-$6.

Grand Duke's Restaurant

(3 forks)

6312 S. Harlem Ave., Summit


Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 8 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.

Credit cards: D, M, V

Noise factor: Conversation friendly


Take it home: Grand Duke's Deli is attached to the restaurant and sells many of the ingredients (cheese and sausage in the dairy case, as well as lots of shelf-stable items) to cook at home, together with take-away dishes in the refrigerator case. It's open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

Soccer and more: Toyota Park (7000 S. Harlem Ave., Bridgeview, 708-594-7200), home of the Chicago Fire soccer team as well as a concert venue, is just down the street. Grand Duke's would be a great stop before or after a game or concert.

Ratings key: 4 forks, don't miss it; 3 forks, one of the best; 2 forks, very good; 1 fork, good

Reviews are based on anonymous visits by Tribune staff members; meals are paid for by the Tribune.

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