When the weather’s nice, it’s hard to stay holed up inside. All around the region, our favorite restaurants offer unique, relaxing spaces for enjoying the great outdoors and a great meal, too. We stopped by some of our favorites to ask what makes each special.
Abreo (formerly Brio)
The outdoor patio is walled off in an alley behind this newly-renamed downtown restaurant, and it’s one classy alley. The space is surrounded by planters, a water fountain and ivy-covered walls. Nearly 35 seats are available for limited reservations at newly-refinished iron tables and chairs. The patio is open until October. “It’s really tranquil when you’re dining out there,” says Paul Sletten, owner and chef. “It almost feels like you’re not even in downtown Rockford.” 515 E. State St., Rockford, Ill. (815) 968-9463. abreorockford.com.
Nestled along a country highway northwest of Beloit, this supper club’s outdoor dining area isn’t even visible from the road. The view from the 80-seat patio is mostly wooded and quiet. Full dinner and drink menus are available at the patio, which is generally open until Labor Day. It’s also available for private gatherings. “The patio is a very peaceful place,” says Hektor Sala, who owns the restaurant with brother Mike. “It’s a wooded area, and we have about five acres here that we take care of.” 5246 E. Co. Road X, Beloit, Wis. (608) 362-8577. butterflyclub.us.
Backyard Grill & Bar
The murals on the walls of either location just might make you think you’re in your backyard. In Roscoe, diners sit on a patio with metal tables, chairs and a fence. In Cherry Valley, the deck is built in an old alleyway and holds about 45 people. “A few times in the summer, we have entertainment in Cherry Valley,” says Rich Schmidt, owner. “We always have a big show during the Cherry Valley Days festival, and occasionally throughout the year.” 5390 Elevator Road, Roscoe, Ill. (815) 623-6677; 201 W. State St., Cherry Valley, Ill. (815) 332-4176. backyardgrill.com.
Maximum seating is around 16, at four square tables. That’s just enough to seat a small, private party or a few folks who want a quiet dinner and drinks outside. The patio is open daily and diners order from the regular menu. It’s also available for private reservations. “It’s just a private little space,” says Saro Costa, owner and chef. “I’ve got a white fence there that separates you from the street. It’s intimate for a few people to sit around and relax. It’s not too loud or crowded.” 133 E. Blackhawk Dr., Byron, Ill. (815) 234-4707. costasbyron.com.
The patio circles three sides of the building, which is set into a hill just off Route 251. There’s seating for 30, plus standing room and an area for bag games. Special events include the Cronies birthday bash and the Throwback Thursday patio party, where beer lovers find old-school tallboys of PBR and other classics. There’s entertainment on Thursdays and occasionally on weekends. “It’s actually pretty quiet out there most of the time,” says Tim Bent, owner and head chef. “When you get a lot of people out there, it’s just electric. The drinks go down smooth and it’s a great atmosphere.” 9032 N. 2nd St., Machesney Park, Ill. (815) 282-2262.
Famous Fossil Winery
Stop by this winery north of Freeport for a box lunch on any Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Or, get a ticket to the winery’s giant barbecue, hosted on the first Saturday every month through September. Featuring locally-sourced meats and local musical talent, the barbecue draws a sellout crowd of 120 people – rain or shine. Both the ivy-covered pergola and the deck overlook the vineyard’s sloping hills, and are available for private parties. Thanks to nature, it’s also bug-free. “We have birdhouses and lots of bluebirds and swallows around,” says Pam Rossman, owner. “The birds take care of the mosquitos around here. I swear, I’ve never been bitten at the winery.” 395 W. Cedarville Road, Freeport, Ill. (815) 563-4665. famousfossilwinery.com.
Fifth Alarm Firehouse Pub
In cold weather, it’s a dining and game room. In nice weather, the doors go up and it becomes a room with a patio that holds 25 diners. This nook in Byron’s old fire house is open from 11 a.m. to midnight, like the main dining room. The game room features a pool table and hosts the restaurant’s annual crawfish festival. The patio and game room are also available for private parties. “It’s like being in a restaurant and you’re still outside,” says Kitty Moring, owner. “It’s got a 6-foot fence, so you’re not sitting in a parking lot or alley.” 120 N. Union St., Byron, Ill. (815) 234-7000. fifthalarm.com.
Geneva Inn’s Grandview Restaurant
As far as quiet, out-of-the-way dining spots go, this is unique around Lake Geneva. The bed and breakfast’s outdoor patio seats nearly 100 on a terrace that’s just yards above a private pier along Geneva Lake. Open through autumn, the patio offers full lunch and dinner menus, plus live jazz music every Friday and Saturday night. The band returns for the first and third Sunday of every month. “At the patio, you’re there without being bothered by a whole lot of activity,” says David Omastiak, inn spokesman. “Downtown in Lake Geneva, there are people everywhere and it’s so busy. Here, you’re on the water and there’s nothing between you and the pier but a little bit of landscaping.” N2009 S. Lake Shore Dr., Lake Geneva, Wis. (262) 248-5680. genevainn.com.
The covered patio is open rain or shine, and it’s one of the few places in town where you can smoke while you dine. Choose a menu from the upscale dining room or from Big Al’s Bar. Patio-only drink specials include house-made sangria, and there’s Friday night music from 5 to 8 p.m. Rent the 100-seat patio for a private party or custom grilling. “It’s a higher elevation than the rest of the building, plus it’s covered and it’s cool,” says Joe Castrogiovanni, owner. “Everyone likes to be a spectator, and this is a neat place just to watch all around you. People-watching is huge for a lot of diners.” 610 N. Bell School Road, Rockford, Ill. (815) 398-6411. giodine.com.
The gorgeous views overlooking the Mississippi River are just part of the attraction at this elaborate bed and breakfast. The patio seats 24 diners 150 feet above the river, while the pavilion and gazebo hold more. The monthly First Friday barbecues feature live entertainment. Nearly 120 people show up for these ticketed events, which have themes such as Texas barbecue, Hawaiian pig roast and Mexican fiesta. “People go all out for this,” says Patricia Smith, owner. “They get all dressed up. They’ll wear big belts and 10-gallon hats, they’ll come out in leis and Hawaiian shirts. They have a lot of fun with it.” 9001 Sand Hill Road, Galena, Ill. (800) 255-3925. goldmoorinn.com.
The Hope & Anchor Pub
Jump across the pond to this unique English-style pub with outdoor patio. Open through Labor Day, the patio offers Friday night jazz bands, Wednesday night open mic, and bags tournaments, too. Nearly 100 diners can sit around the metal tables and picnic tables. There’s even a fireplace for cool nights. “It’s all very similar to going to an English pub,” says Ian Robbins, owner. “It’s very friendly and, within about an hour, you feel like you know everyone there.” 5040 N. Second St., Loves Park, Ill. (815) 633-2552.
Dine in a true urban setting at this sidewalk patio, just a few blocks from Rockford’s MetroCentre. Formerly an open mall, this space seats about 20 and offers a full-service food and drink menu. Keep an eye out for upcoming street festivals, says Jason Williams, head chef. “The space is bustling with cars outside,” he says. “It’s peaceful. It’s urban, like you’re in Chicago. Stop and enjoy your meal while the world keeps moving around you.” 124 N. Main St., Rockford, Ill., (815) 965-4012. octane.net.
The beer menu offers an astounding 100 choices of mostly craft brews, all available at the deck bar. The redwood deck seats nearly 90 and has space for other activities. Watch your chef harvest fresh herbs from the herb garden; stop by for Bags Tournament Tuesday; and enjoy beer/wine tastings on the first Thursdays of the month. The deck is also available for private wedding parties and gatherings. “We’ve shoveled snow off the deck just so we could host a bags tournament,” says Zak Rotello, food and beverage director. “We try and use the deck as much as we can, any time of the year.” 2327 N. Main St., Rockford, Ill. (815) 962-8758. theolympictavern.com.
Perry Rock Pub
This new dining spot, located in Perryville Place, includes an outdoor patio that seats up to 85 diners in a landscaped surrounding. Large patio furniture and summertime games, such as bags and shuffleboard, add to the casual fun. Weekend DJs and acoustic performances top off the entertainment lineup. “When we launched the restaurant, we tried to make the patio like the patio you’d have at home,” says owner Abbie Shepp. “We’ve got large, comfy tables, and we want you to sit and hang out with friends, just like you would in your backyard.” 6957 Olde Creek Road, Rockford, Ill. (815) 316-8600. perryrockpub.com.
Prairie Street Brewhouse
It’s not a restaurant – it’s more of a weekly party. Every Thursday night through Labor Day, diners can boat, bike, walk or drive to this tiki-style bar and grill at the downtown Rockford marina. Menu items include brats, burgers, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches – all provided by Backyard Grill & Bar. The party runs from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., and music starts around 7 p.m. “It’s right outside an historic building, the oldest brewery, and it’s the only place downtown where you can eat at the river,” says Shawn Kelley, event space manager. “You’re only 18 inches above the water.” 200 Prairie St., Rockford, Ill. (815) 277-9427. psbrewhouse.com.
Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery
Weekend entertainment is the big attraction. Of course, so are the views. See Iowa, only 8 miles away, and view the Mississippi River from a perch that’s three stories high. Every Sunday through Labor Day, the winery hosts local bands. From 1-4 p.m., guests can buy a box lunch and listen to music, ranging from rockabilly and bluegrass to accordion and Frank Sinatra. The deck seats 86 people and is also available for private parties. “The atmosphere and the setting are great,” says Kyle Spahn, president. “We wanted to open a place that’s nice and relaxing for visitors with busy lives.” 2003 W. Hanover Road, Hanover, Ill. (815) 591-9706. rockywaters.net.
Back Door Lounge at Starved Rock Lodge
The sunset is long and beautiful from this large deck overlooking the Illinois River. Once the sun is down, the music goes live. The veranda is open through Labor Day and beyond, with seating for nearly 500 people. Choose from the dining room’s elaborate menu, or the veranda’s own grill menu. There’s even a corner for smokers, where the breeze blows smoke down toward the river. “There aren’t a lot of outdoor dining areas on the water, and I think people really enjoy being able to eat and watch the river,” says Kathy Casstevens-Jasiek, marketing director. “They like the wind, the earth, the water, the sky. And, it’s a historic landmark.” Routes 178 & 71, Utica, Ill., (800) 868-7625. starvedrocklodge.com.