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Dining at Sea Level

Port Edward has grown into a massive, nautical-themed seafood restaurant enjoyed by generations of landlubbers.

It was the late 1950s and Ed Wolowiec was in the Caribbean, sitting on a beach on St. Barts. It was one of the stops while he was doing some island hopping. He was there because he was itching for a change. A chance, he said, to evolve. Because, Wolowiec believes, life is about evolution.

He drew a line in the sand. And a few more.

The lines he scratched that day became the foundation of a local oasis, Port Edward Restaurant.

Like any person with a dream, he needed a launching pad to make it a reality. He started his career as a music teacher. “In the early days, I saved a portion of my paycheck,” Wolowiec said of how he began to fund his future. “I even cashed in my teacher’s pension.”

Wolowiec said he got into the restaurant business as another step in his evolution. But there were more practical reasons. “I was a bachelor and I had to eat,” he said with a smile.

What was to become Port Edward started off small. Wolowiec bought a place called the Anchor Lounge, a small bar that overlooked the Fox River in Algonquin, just 350 square feet.

“I’ve kept adding and adding,” Wolowiec said. “I can’t even count [the number of additions].”

A Nautical Adventure

Today, Port Edward is a virtual museum of the seafaring life. The building’s walls are decorated with all things maritime such as buoys, deep-sea diving suits with their weighted shoes; and huge brass helmets, flare guns and old lobster pots. It even includes The Porpoise, a 25-foot sailboat/dining room floating in a koi pond.

The restaurant is meant to evoke the past glory of seafaring and whaling towns like Nantucket, Mass. Everywhere you look you see grayed and weathered clapboard siding and cedar shingles.

With its many additions, Port Edward is a labyrinth of special dining spaces named the Red Room (the original Anchor Lounge), Lobster Cove, the Seven Gables Secret Room, the Old Salem Shanty and more. Even The Porpoise is available for dining. Each room has its own unique décor. Several of the spaces use old church pews as booth seats and are separated by walls of authentic harpoons or block and tackle from sailing ships.

The Salem Lounge, the restaurant’s bar, features floor-to-ceiling windows that take in the view of the Fox River, and offers live entertainment on the weekends.

As another dining option, Port Edward offers riverside service during the warmer months. Boaters can even dock at the restaurant’s pier and dine either dockside or in the restaurant.

Award-Winning Food and Service

While the décor sets an unforgettable mood, food and service are what keep generations of guests coming back to celebrate milestones, date nights and family gatherings.

Quality food and service are so important to Wolowiec that he hung a sign in his kitchen that reads: “If you are not proud of it, do not serve it. No matter what you do in life, do it well and your effort will be appreciated.”

Port Edward has also garnered accolades. In 2002, the influential magazine Wine Spectator gave the restaurant its Award of Excellence. The Chicago TV show “Check, Please!” gave it four forks and TripAdvisor.com reviewers gave it 4.5 stars overall with one reviewer saying, “If you love seafood, Friday night at Port Edwards is the best. Great food, great service and great atmosphere.”

Affordable Choices

Wolowiec admits the restaurant has developed a reputation for high prices. He said he and his chefs are working to break that perception by developing a more streamlined menu that still maintains excellence in ingredients but creates portion options with different prices.

The two prices for the Alaskan Halibut with mango-citrus butter are $29.99 for the regular portion and $25.99 for the small portion while the Wild Atlantic Salmon is $22.99 and $16.99 for the regular and small portions, respectively.

One of the best-kept secrets at Port Edward is its steaks and chops. “We serve a darn good steak,”  Wolowiec said. “Chef Randy does an awesome job with meat.”

Choices range from a filet mignon to the Chop Chop (a pork chop and two baby lamb chops with apple sundried cranberry chutney) to the London broil.

It offers a Friday night international sushi and seafood buffet and a Sunday champagne brunch buffet that features traditional breakfast fare such as eggs benedict, made-to-order omelets and French toast, as well as crab legs, paella overflowing with clams, mussels, shrimp and more.

As for Wolowiec’s vision for the restaurant’s evolution, he’s looking forward to the 50th anniversary in 2014 and enjoys seeing the next generation of staff and guests making this landmark part of their lives.

>> The restaurant is located at 20 W. Algonquin in Algonquin. Reservations are accepted and recommended for Sunday brunch, holidays and dockside dining during the summer. Make reservations via 847-658-5441 or www.portedward.com/reservations.htm.

What the Locals are Saying …

“It’s great for the family. You get whatever you want to eat.”– Jessica Coy, 29, South Elgin

“I like the food, especially the hot crab with butter and the chocolate fountain. I like feeding the [koi] fish and watching them eat.” –Olivia Jones, 12, Lake in the Hills, third-generation Port Edward patron

“My wife and I have driven past the place a ton of times [and now we bring our young children often]. This is a great place for kids.” –Eric Mosier, 40, Lake Barrington

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