Made to Order: Oak Park Tavern has tradition of quality

Seems like in today’s world we tend to look for what is new, trendy, fashionable and in style.

Most times, we are in for a disappointment. You see, nothing compares to doing something the right way, consistently for many years.

What was quality then, is still quality today.

When looking for a restaurant or small eateries, I often look for that new food concept, but I also see what works and the people behind the concepts that never age.

If you’re looking for a wonderful place worth a night out with a loved one, try Oak Park Tavern.

Located on 430 East on the scenic original Lincoln Highway, this establishment might not look like a trendy place, but it is steeped with tradition, fresh-cut steaks, seafood and their famous Lake Erie perch.

We are so impressed with this restaurant, we had our daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner in their back room.

Talking with owner Belinda Martin, who has been a part of Oak Park since 1991, I’ve discovered there’s a rich history that has her keeping with tradition.

Back in the 1920s, this little roadside stop started as a general store that sold gas, sandwiches and camping supplies. It later developed into a restaurant in the 1940s where they even butchered meat and fish in the back.

While visiting the Oak Park Tavern, I struck up a conversation with Robert Wharton, a patron since its beginning. He says that the great food and service keeps him and even his family from Chicago and Long Island choosing this little gem in the woods.

Moving forward to the food, Belinda and her husband Greg have strived to provide a fine dining experience in a casual atmosphere. Chef Andrea and I first sampled their gigantic shrimp cocktail, fresh-made sauerkraut balls, pot stickers and crab ragoons (dumplings).

The crisp sauerkraut balls were just perfectly tender inside while the sausage stuffed pot stickers and crab had several sauces to dip and were equally delightful.

I then choose the petite filet wrapped in bacon that was not only medium rare, but I could cut it with a fork.

By all means, do not order this steak beyond medium, it’s simply a waste of this grain-fed goodness. Next came the golden fried perch and with a squeeze of lemon, I now know what all the fuss was about.

The item we have had several times and remains our favorite are the delicate scallops, which are sauteed in butter, garlic, lemon, paprika and Belinda’s secret seasoning.

Could life get any better?

At that moment I was in Culinary Heaven.

The bar had several offerings too as we tried the house-made potato chips alongside one of the many microbrews.

We noticed hanging copper mugs that caught our curiosity as we asked what they were used for. Greg then went to work on their special Moscow Mule, a concoction of ginger beer, lime and vodka served ice cold in those glittering mugs. The mug really does keep the drink Siberian cold down to the last sip and it is now my favorite cocktail.

You’ll find their service and friendly attitude complements the food like fine wine. Most employees have been there from 5 to 16 years and claim the family working atmosphere is why they make Oak Park their choice for a career.

The menu encompasses old-time favorites like the perch, prime rib and smothered chicken. Chef Andrea loves fried frog legs, so this is one of the only places in the area where they are available.

When ordering an entree, you can choose soup as a side and we both enjoy the French onion soup.

They also offer ice cream drinks from a “Pink Squirrel” to a “Grasshopper” that combines creme de menthe, creme de cacao and fresh cream.

If you would like a little vino to compliment your meal, they have a dozen selections from which to choose.

We indulged in a lemon berry cake to finish our meal and we were very pleased.

They are proud of their new covered outside dining on the deck, which often has entertainment.

It is important to include a “date night” to your agenda, so make sure Oak Park Tavern is on your list.

Hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

For reservations, call 419-589-2637.

More information, directions and the full menu are at

Chef Seth Weibel owns his own bakery, Sweet Peace Cakes & Desserts, and is a culinary arts teacher at Pioneer Career and Technology Center. He can be reached via email at