Because every Chicagoan needs to eat, and occasionally that includes more than just hot dogs, we present Table Stakes: a recurring series that answers a man's eternally recurring question (“Uh, what’s new?”) and happens every lunar cycle or so. Let’s get it.
The team behind The Betty and Bangers & Lace just debuted their best concept yet: Sparrow, an intimate cocktail lounge tucked away in a charming Art Deco apartment building in the Gold Coast. This joint’s got date night all over it. Past the neon signage, the interior captures the romantic spirit of old hotel lobby bars: a long slab of pine, exposed brick and cozy velvet banquettes, all accentuated by a working antique phone booth and other bygone touches. Manning the pumps: Peter Vestinos. He’s got a thing for rum. Opening menu highlights include the Floridita #3, made with Cana Brava Rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur and sugar — a drink beloved by one Ernest Hemingway during his time in Havana.
Sarah Grueneberg is among the most skillful modern Italian chefs in town, probably best known for the delicate, elegant pasta dishes from her stint at Spiaggia, where she led the kitchen for close to four years. Monteverde, located on a quiet strip of the West Loop, features some of her most refined recipes. Inside: an inviting dining room of earth-toned greens and rustic creams. Behind the bar in the center of the floor: a rotating cast of Italian grandmas (or so it seems) making fresh pastas to order, including a cannelloni rolled with lamb, sage and balsamic atop a cauliflower bechamel. Hands down one of the most satisfying things we’ve eaten all year.
Queen Mary feels like a classic Chicago dive bar without trying too hard. Modeled after a throwback maritime tavern, there’s a lot to love about this place: dark and slightly dingy, with an original bar where drinkers can sit on both sides — not to mention one of the best bar programs in the city. Expect concoctions built on spirits you won’t see prominently featured anywhere else: rum, gin, ports, sherries. Anchor down for the night. They’ll get ya three sheets to the wind, trust.
Don’t come to Dos Urban Cantina for the tacos. There are none. And that’s a good thing. What you get instead is seriously sophisticated urban-Mexican cooking. Chef Brian Enyart — who cut his teeth at Topolobampo under Rick Bayless — can throw down on a soulful mole, and just about every dish proves he’s got a good handle on Mexican cuisine. You want the octopus. You want the carnitas served in tomatillo broth. And you definitely want our favorite dish, which happens to be vegetarian: grilled maitake and shimeji mushrooms nestled atop a sensational Oaxacan red mole and served with chestnut cornbread.
Paul McGee is having a good year. The bearded barman opened his tiki concept, Lost Lake, in Logan Square in January. He also wrote the bar program at the Game Room and Cherry Circle Room, which are Reasons One and Two for visiting the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Reason Three: Milk Room, an intimate eight-seat microbar under the same roof. Reservations only. A thrilling experience underpinned by a speakeasy-meets-private-gent’s-club atmosphere. Drinks range from $18 to the hundreds. Come thirsty.
Craig Sindelar and Michael Carroll — two industry vets who spent a good chunk of their combined years at Alinea — are betting on Ravenswood. And a first look at their take on the “culinary brewpub” says they’re betting big. Grilled Apple Tarragon. Roasted Beet Thyme. Miatake Basmati Nutty. Those aren’t dish names, those are beer names. The menu is built for you to work backwards. You’ll see beer first with suggested dish pairings underneath. We dig.
Inspired by all things Midwest, the team behind River North stalwart Farmhouse have just opened a sibling concept called Farm Bar, where they’re sourcing nearly all their ingredients from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Same casual vibe, same delicious, seasonal grub. The Wisco cheese curds are are don’t-miss, as are the burgers, which are inspired by state. Our pick: the Indiana “Barnyard,” served up with pulled BBQ pork, a sunnyside egg and black garlic ale mustard on a brioche bun.