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Front Street Cantina Review
If there is one commodity of which the Fox Valley seems
to have no shortage, it is restaurants; new ones are popping up all the
time. And one genre that always seems to be popular is Mexican.
Many years ago, a close friend had directed me to a tiny storefront venue in
Wheaton that served some of the best-tasting and reasonably-priced Mexican
fare I had sampled -- up to that point. When I discovered that the
recently-added Geneva location was a cousin (actually a franchise) of the
original Front Street Cantina in Wheaton , I just had to check it out.
Opened in late 2008, the place sits in a pretty prime
location just across from the train station on popular Third Street in
Geneva, at the south end of the Dodson Place shopping area. Finding a
parking place in that area has become a difficult task; there is an open
area on the south side of the restaurant, but no parking is available there.
And the open area actually leads to a parking garage... that is apparently
reserved for commuters -- at least there are no signs that say otherwise.
Bad weather would not make finding a parking place anywhere nearby any fun
at all. That however would only be a minor issue if the food and
service were good.
Front Street has a lot of large windows, adding to the
bright and comfortable feel of the place, and the ambient lighting was also
comfortable and not too bright. The long bar, situated towards the
front of the restaurant is a major focal point, and there are several tall
tables available in the bar area. Long and narrow, Front Street also
offers seating in booths and at tables, all situated toward the rear of the
store. Decor is austere but customer friendly, with dark wood mixed
with bright colors. Some tables had candles on them; ours did not.
A large TV was mounted on the wall behind the bar but the volume was set
thoughtfully low. Music filtered down from overhead speakers -- also
thoughtfully at an acceptable volume.
Lauren and I chose to sit at one of the tall tables --
barren except for a table tent, announcing drink specials --and it was not
long before the bartender came by, offered menus and inquired if we would
like a beverage. Lauren asked for a margarita; I chose a Mexican
bottled beer. When the bartender returned -- he was both 'tending and
waiting tables -- he brought a basket of fresh chips and what seemed to be
homemade salsa. There were some chunks of what appeared to be canned
tomatoes in it, but there were plenty of fresh ones as well and the mix had
a nice heat level (a bit high for Lauren) from bits of fresh jalapenos that
went perfectly with my ice cold beer. We also decided to see how Front
Street rated with their guacamole that was on the appetizer list, so we
asked for an order. A big bowl of fresh, bright green and mashed
avocado, blended with plenty of cilantro and spices made for an excellent
batch of the stuff. At $6.95, it seemed like a great deal -- certainly
enough to serve three and perhaps even four people as an appetizer... very
The menu wasn't huge, but there were the usual selections of
tacos, tamales, burritos, fajitas and combinations of those items too.
I apologize for not taking home a menu to give you a better list, but the
choices were fairly "standard"; most dinner items were priced at between $9
and $11 and were served with black beans and rice. I finally located
my standard selection: -- against which I make comparisons -- the
Chimichanga. Lauren spotted the Taco Salad and decided to make her own
comparison... actually a comparison of the Front Street version to her own.
(I'm somewhat prejudiced, but I gotta say that Lauren makes one of the very
best taco salads I have ever eaten. I would eagerly await her verdict
on the salad...)
The wait for our dinners was a bit longer than it might have
been; the bar got busy, and the distance to the kitchen from the bar was
longer than from the dining room. If the plates had been hot at one
time, they were no longer... this a fairly small detail in an otherwise fine
experience. My very large Chimi was still pretty hot --
temperature-wise -- and loaded with tasty and tender fajita-style chicken
and melted cheese, accompanied by the rice and beans; the shell was crispy
and delicate and the flavor was very, very good. Lauren's salad was
gigantic, covering a significant portion of her dinner plate. The
crisp taco shell was about six inches high and loaded with lots of grilled chicken,
along with lettuce, beans, tomatoes, sour cream, olives and cheese.
In the case of Front Street Cantina in Geneva, I like the
fact that the owners are trying to make their own statement regarding the
design and layout, while still maintaining a similar -- if not the same --
menu as the other stores in what is now a small "chain". And I like
the food. It is Mexican fare with a spice level a bit lower than I
would like to see, but certainly not blah by any stretch and, for anyone who
likes Mexican, easy to enjoy.
Plating was OK, service was too -- especially by a bartender
doing double duty -- and the food was fresh and very good. Restaurant
ratings are not always based solely on how well a particular venue does
things, or whether there is simply a marked lack of things done poorly, but
a combination of the two. On this occasion, Front Street did a very
good job of reducing minor negatives to the point of insignificance.
I do expect to return so that I can sample some of the other
appetizers and entrees. With the level of competition in the Fox
Valley area of the same genre, Front Street Cantina will have its work cut
out for it. It's work though that the owners will likely enjoy and
probably welcome. I give Front Street three-and-a-half Zins.
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