Most Chicagoans tend to think of Hard Rock Café as a “touristy” kind of place. True in one way, but you might be surprised to realize that Hard Rock is also a great spot for an excellent meal. They recently overhauled their menu in order to increase variety, add elements of freshness and seasonality, and offer more light options and the results are generally excellent.
I was recently invited to sample a number of items on their new menu, both food and cocktails, and I was happily surprised at the quality and variety. The extensive menu still maintains all of the “traditional” comfort foods – chicken wings, nachos, potato skins, and chicken tenders – but has expanded that to include plenty of more inventive options. For instance, on the appetizer menu they now have Balsamic Tomato Bruchetta (toasted artisan bread topped with herb cream cheese and marinated Roma tomatoes and fresh basil, served with a drizzle of basil oil and shaved Parmesan).
For salads, you can still get a good Caesar or Cobb but why not opt instead for their new and delightful Grilled Chicken Arugula Salad (baby arugula, thinly sliced grilled chicken, spicy pecans, dried cranberries and fresh oranges tossed in lemon balsamic vinaigrette, topped with crumbled feta cheese)? This was probably my favorite moment in an excellent evening of food. The light dressing was just enough to give a zing without detracting from any of the flavors. The combination of sweet (cranberries), savory (chicken/pecans), salty (feta), tart (lemon/orange), and peppery (arugula) was a perfect blend and the salad is clearly large enough to share if you are planning to have a larger meal.
The entrées still focus on comfort food (steak, fajitas, fried shrimp, burgers, and sandwiches) but they have also added a superb fish preparation. The Grilled Norwegian Salmon (8-oz filet, wrapped in cedar paper, grilled tender and drizzled with sweet and spicy barbecue sauce with maître de butter. Served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and seasonal veggie) was one of the finest salmon preparations I have had in recent memory. The fish was light and flaky, the sauce delicate and well-balanced, and the herbed butter was a wonderful savory/salty accompaniment to the sweetness of the sauce. They have replaced their former side of rice pilaf with mashed potatoes and that would be my only personal criticism of the dish. I tend to prefer rice with fish. But in all honesty, the potatoes were very tasty and didn’t really detract from the dish.
On the burger menu, the major standout is the Local Legendary burger. Each Hard Rock location has a special burger crafted specifically to honor their location. For Chicago, the Local Legendary burger pays homage to the Italian beef sandwich. If you like Italian beef, then try this burger. As for the sandwich menu, most are “traditional” but they have a lovely vegetarian selection. The Fresh Vegetable Sandwich (marinated and grilled Portobello mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted red peppers and grilled asparagus, topped with Monterey Jack cheese and balsamic glaze on grilled sourdough with tarragon mayonnaise) is one of the better veggie sandwiches I have sampled.
Hard Rock Café has been an icon on the corner of Clark & Ontario for over 25 years and they continue to excel not only at live entertainment and cocktails, but also food. Their newly-reconcepted menu is definitely worth a try. Why not spend a day shopping on the Mag mile, followed by dinner at Hard Rock, and then post-prandial cocktails at their bar while enjoying a great live concert? You can do it all there!
Hard Rock Café is located at 63 West Ontario (the corner of Clark and Ontario). You can reach them at 312-943-2252. For more information you can visit the website, follow them on Twitter, check out their photos on Instagram, and “like” them on Facebook.