Superior restaurant experiences abound in Chicago, and most people seem to feel that they are concentrated in a very small area surrounding the Loop and a bit farther north. But discerning diners know that excellent restaurants can be found in any (or all) of Chicago’s many neighborhoods. Irving Park now boasts one of the best new restaurants I have sampled in quite some time.
Bread & Wine is located at 3732 West Irving Park Road. Focusing on farm to table fare, Bread & Wine delivers what they term “elevated, nostalgic Midwestern fare.” Owners Lisa Fosler Kelly, a lawyer, chef and the wine manager, and Jennifer Wisniewski, an experienced restaurant manager and developer who was involved in Naha and Café Absinthe, have partnered with chef Michael Dean Reynolds. Michael’s career has included Sous Chef positions at Café Absinthe and Blue Water Grill, Chef de Cuisine at The Gage and Executive Chef at Leopold.
Lisa, Jen, and Michael have really pioneered the area restaurant scene which is up-and-coming with the addition of trendy neighbors like Honey Butter Fried Chicken. They like to think of themselves as “urban pioneers” of the neighborhood. The space was previously a laundromat which, like many spaces in this area, was sitting vacant but has now been converted into an inviting, calm place where people can gather to drink and dine in comfort. They are serving beautiful and thoughtful food at an incredible price point and a visit is definitely worth your time if it includes this lovely dining spot.
And here’s a huge bonus . . . they have parking! As a former laundromat, the location boasts a small but free parking lot. Frankly, I would drive farther out of my way just for the convenience of not worrying about parking. It’s also an easy dining destination to get to either on the Irving Park bus or the Irving Park blue line stop.
I was recently invited to sample their superb menu, including the inventive specialty cocktail selections. Stand-out cocktails include:
- London’s Burning (Bombay London Dry Gin, Blood Orange, Lime, Fresno Chili Simple Syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, Cayenne Pepper) – This is a delightful summertime concoction with just a hint of heat. The herbal/bitter flavors are just enough to give this a well-rounded flavor both complex and refreshing.
- Paloma (Tequila, Fresh Lime Juice, Grapefruit Soda, Salted Rim) – This one has a bit more heat due to the salted rim which contains some chili, but it’s still a wonderfully refreshing summertime concoction for those who like tequila.
- #80 (Centivo Moscato d’Asti, Gin, Fresh Lemon Juice, Lemon Knot) – Bread & Wine’s answer to the concept of the French 75, this is another wonderfully drinkable and refreshing summertime cocktail. Sparkling wines are always refreshing, and the balance of tart lemon, herbal gin, and sweet Moscato creates even more interest.
The meal began with the House Charcuterie & Cheese Plate. They offer several options to craft your own platter and for me, the “Chef’s Choice” of three meats and three cheeses is definitely the way to go. Whatever combination you choose, however, you must sample their excellent Chicken Liver Pâté. The addition of some intriguing spices gives this a unique, light, and tremendously flavorful taste.
After the Charcuterie, we had the pleasure of trying three of the Small Plate selections:
- Legumes (yellow wax beans, English peas, buttermilk, fava bean hummus) – Both vegetarian and gluten free, this is a colorful and tremendously tasty spring/summer offering. The foamy presentation might seem a bit odd when you first view it, but believe me you will enjoy this as a starter to your meal without filling up so much that you cannot enjoy the rest of the courses.
- Steak Tartare (egg yolk, capers, mustard, toast) – I admit to being a huge fan of good steak tartare, so I am a hard sell. Bread & Wine not only sold me, but I would come back just to have a cocktail and this awesome appetizer. If you enjoy tartare, don’t miss out on this one.
- 48-Hour Beef Belly (poached hen egg, asparagus, radish, gastrique) – Really, bacon (and by extension pork belly) makes everything better. Add to that the perfectly poached egg, crunchy freshly-steamed asparagus, and the gastrique and you have a superior (and gluten-free) starter to your meal.
For Large Plates, we also sampled three eclectic offerings:
- Rainbow Trout (kale, almond, celery, green garlic emulsion, brown butter) – Another notable gluten-free option, the trout was slight and flaky. All of the ingredients were fresh and crunchy and the flavor combinations were perfect. This, like so many options, fits perfectly into the season.
- Seared Hanger Steak (beer braised potatoes, asparagus, mustard steak sauce) – When reviewing steak, I will admit to an overuse of such adjectives as “succulent, fork-tender, densely flavorful, and mouth-watering.” That may sound like hyperbole, but honestly there’s no better way to describe this excellent dish!
- Curried Tofu (rice noodles, rapini, kimchi, hazelnut, spicy beet broth) – Here is the vegan option on the menu, and it’s worth a taste even if you’re not searching for vegan fare. The dish was put on the menu in the winter but proved so popular that they are choosing to keep it for the summer! As much as I love steak, this was even better than the hanger steak.
Finally, no visit to Bread & Wine is complete without at least a taste of dessert. At the moment there are three on the menu and we sampled two of them:
- Chocolate mousse (chocolate crunch, whipped cream, sea salt) – A vegetarian delight with several flavors of chocolate, several textures, and the addition of sea salt. Sweet, savory, salty, creamy, crunchy – all at the same time.
- Éclair (sweet goat cheese filling, caramel, rhubarb compote) – Another vegetarian offering, this has a wonderful mixture of tart (rhubarb), sweet (caramel), and savory (goat cheese) all merged into one memorable bundle.
In addition to the restaurant, Bread & Wine has a small market which carries its own private label house made retail items, as well as off the shelf food items from local artisans and a selection of carefully chosen cheese, wine, beer and spirits. For more information call 773.866.5266 or visit BreadAndWineChicago.com. You can also follow them on Twitter or visit their Facebook Page for more information.