Table Stakes: April
The seven new restaurants that should be on your must-try list
To keep tabs on every Chicago bar and restaurant opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past thirty (or so). Get it.
Alarmist Brewing Tap Room
Northerly Sauganash is dry no more now that the neighborhood’s only brewery has debuted its long-awaited taproom. The 10,000-sq.-ft. beer hall hidden in the back of an office park seats more than 80 thirsty patrons. You won’t find food here (yet), TVs (ever, except for special events) or anything else to drink aside from eight freshly brewed Alarmist beers, including the beloved flagship Pantsless Pale Ale and seasonal Skewmaggedon Oatmeal Stout. Drink strictly partisan with the “Alternative Facts” Belgian ale or “Golden Showers” American blonde. Or simply bask in the conversation — political or otherwise — that comes when good beer’s flowing.
The Budlong Hot Chicken
Well gents, your far-northside Nashville hot chicken fix is here. Budlong founder Jared Leonard (BBQ Supply Co.) has debuted his third outpost (intended as the original), roughly three years in the making. For Leonard, who spent a year fine-tuning the recipe for this mega-popular Nashville-style spicy chicken with director of culinary ops Dylan Lipe, good things take time. You’ll taste that mantra in the juicy-to-the-bone chicken, which comes coated in brick-hued spice paste. Your correspondent’s wild for the habanero-laced Xtra Hot ¼ dark piled atop buttered white toast with a side of smoky collards. Also forthcoming at the LS location is a breakfast menu, including Leonard’s legendary Spudnuts (potato-flour doughnuts).
The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet
In other long-time-comin’ news, Tom Powers’s (Marche, Vivo) ambitious, three-level wine bar opened its doors after a two-year buildout. Only the Lunatic’s first floor is open (two private dining rooms and a wine cellar will follow soonish), and all you have to worry about is what you’re gonna drink. With 75 bottled wines (24 on tap), plus 40-odd cocktails from 20-year barman Steve Carrow, it won’t be easy. We’d suggest sipping a Bushido, with Japanese whiskey, black tea, gum syrup and yuzu pearls, while you scroll through the impressive iPad wine list. Thankfully, Jessica Nowicki’s seasonal food menu (think roasted beet salad and fried smelts with Meyer lemon remoulade) is as uncomplicated as it is booze-friendly.
A sexy spot with occasion-worthy plates, retro-chic Ella Elli has date night written all over it. Apricot sidecars in the lounge by the fireplace. Wine and bites in the booth-like stools lining the sleek marble bar. Or a proper, multi-course feast in the privacy of alcoved dining room seating. Nolan Narut’s Mediterranean-inspired menu was made to be shared. Don’t skip the silky, egg-topped avocado toast speckled with everything-bagel seasoning, or the seared scallops with tangy buttermilk polenta. For dessert, you’ll probably want to share the profiteroles dripping with espresso chocolate. There are three per order, but, you know, a little fighting is good in every relationship.
Werewolf Coffee Bar
Lucky for us, DMK Restaurants decided to open its staff-only coffee shop/hangout to the public, because we plan on becoming regulars. This airy, industrial-chic shop exudes chill vibes via nicely spaced, comfy bar and lounge seating, warm wood and a fireplace. The focal point is an old Wonder Bread delivery truck-turned barista counter, where you have your pick of local (Metropolis and Dark Matter) and Portland’s Stumptown drip and cold brew coffees, a range of espresso-based bevvies, along with tea, kombucha and turmeric tonic. Grab a daily rotating pastry or bialy, courtesy of Floriole Cafe & Bakery. Or if your inner college student needs feeding, there are Pop Tarts and instant ramen, too.
The Ruin Daily
One of few un-cheffed stretches left in the West Loop, Jefferson St. got a big boost with this all-day boozy deli from Team 16” On Center (Dusek’s, Moneygun). The Ruin Daily’s main event is 10 rotating sandwiches — a standout being the Gym Shoe, piled with lamb and corned and roast beef with tzatziki mayo and giard (whose backstory we’ve unriddled here). The tangy buffalo roasted cauliflower with blue cheese dressing on sesame challah is decidedly meatless, though no less delectable. In the AM, caffeinate with Metric espresso drinks, pour-overs and drip coffee. Happy Hour starts promptly at 3, with beer, wine and a dozen specialty cocktails. We’ll take a Skylark (Plantation 5 Year, Martinique rum, Licor 43, bitters and allspice), please. And keep ‘em coming.
Pilsen’s beer cred just keeps climbing, with Moody Tongue Brewery debuting last fall and the forthcoming Low Rez down the street. The latest? Alulu, a cozy, wood-accented microbrewery from upstart brewers Frank Costanzo and Nancy Rockwood. Right now, they’re pouring 11 house-made beers, each named to evoke sci-fi and fantasy genres. They’re best known for porters and stouts (we love the Provender Cave coffee stout), but their malty, Belgian tripel Champion Fluffy goes down dangerously easy. You’ll also find an impressive lineup of custom sodas; say the word, and they’ll spike ‘em with any of the aforementioned beers. Foodwise, former Leopold chef Jeff Hedin is killing it, with an eclectic, globally inspired pub menu of Russki pierogi, moules-frites, charred house-made sausages and vegan — yes, vegan — spring rolls.
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