What’s in a name?
In the case of the Green Door Tavern, the name is deeply rooted in Chicago history. Here’s a quiz. What is the significance of a “green door”? I’ll answer the question at the end of this review.
Chicago loves history and food, and few places have such a fascinating and varied history as the Green Door Tavern on the corner of Orleans and Huron. In 1872, immediately following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, James McCole built this two-story wooden structure. Following the fire, Chicago passed a fire code ordinance prohibiting construction of wooden commercial buildings in the Central Business District. 678 North Orleans is one of the few remaining frame structures built prior to this fire ordinance.
In 1921, Vito Giacomo opened the restaurant on the first floor and many of the bar fixtures installed in the 20’s still exist in the present bar and restaurant. The business was eventually renamed Green Door Tavern and now stands as the oldest continuously operating tavern in the city.
I was recently invited to the Green Door Tavern (GDT) to explore their new menu. If you’ve ever been there, you know that GDT has been serving up tasty comfort food to Chicagoans for decades. After such a long time, however, the current owner decided it was time to spruce up the menu.
“Our menu was stuck in the ‘80’s, so we brought it into the 21st century,” commented Lou Waddle owner of The Green Door. “To do the menu right, I asked my extremely talented friend Dirk Flanigan if he could give us some direction,” added Waddle. With the consultation of James Beard Award Nominee chef Dirk Flanigan, a new menu was created in a matter of weeks.
Here’s my advice. Go. Go now and go often. Waddle and Flanigan have created a distinctly different menu with new twists on old standards. The results are superb. I was lucky enough to try some of the new menu items created with the consultation of chef Dirk Flanigan. Afterwards, of course, I needed a crane to lift myself out of my chair, but the overindulgence was worth every bite.
As a starter, check out the Braised Lamb Scrumpets – a very traditional Scottish pub food. Time-intensive to prepare, these are a tremendously flavorful appetizer and like nearly everything on the menu, pairs perfectly with beer. If you’re not familiar with scrumpets, check out this website with a recipe for scrumpets.
After the scrumpets, I moved on to sample the Venison Sloppy Joe and the Pork Belly Slider. These two items constitute the new “small buns” program (a.k.a. sliders) at Green Door Tavern. Both are excellent, but my award for “best of show” goes to the Venison Sloppy Joe, served with a “sugar-kissed” jalapeño atop the slow-cooked, flavorful venison. Sloppy Joes were one of my childhood comfort foods, and this was a perfect meal on a cold wintry day. The venison, too, makes it leaner and more substantial than hamburger could have done.
For burger lovers, there are two new menu items that are sure to please. For their inventive take on the “traditional” burger try out the Ch-Ca-Co Angus Burger created with Sommerset House Beef, in-house cured bacon, watercress, and Dirk Flanigan’s secret spicy “GDT Sauce.” Besides being a superb flavor combination, there’s something rather special about this and all the beef dishes. The meat is sourced from Sommerset House in Kentucky – a farm owned by Green Door Tavern proprietor Lou Waddle.
Talk about the ultimate “farm-to-table” experience! Lou can personally guarantee that the beef is 100% Black Angus, grass-fed, hormone-free.
Another awesome beef experience can be found in the GDT Crispy Braised Beef sandwich. The beef is braised and then roasted to create the crispy texture. The sandwich is served with horseradish, Havarti, and mustard. If I hadn’t already tasted so much else, I might have been tempted to order two of these.
Finally, the ultimate comfort food has to be the GDT Poutine “Chicago Style.” Instead of the “normal” version of poutine you might find in other establishments, the Green Door Tavern has created a unique homage to Chicago by serving their poutine with Wisconsin cheese curds, giardiniera, and Italian beef gravy – sort of a “Chicago Italian Beef” mixed with French fries. These were actually just as good left over (and cold) the next day as they were when they were first served. Pair this with one of the excellent craft beers and you have the perfect cold weather comfort food experience.
If you haven’t already been convinced, here are four reasons to make sure you take a trip over to Green Door Tavern (GDT):
- History: For fans of Chicago history, GDT has tremendous connection to the Great Fire, to Prohibition, and to the entire history of Chicago as a city in love with its food and beverage. After all, it is the oldest continuously operating tavern in the city.
- Architecture: For architecture buffs, check out the racking of the building, the sloping floors, exposed wood floors and beams, and traditional wood frame construction. You’ll geek out over the city’s oldest wood-frame structure.
- Beer: GDT has one of the coolest, most eclectic draft beer lists in the city. This is definitely a spot that beer lovers should visit.
- Food: If you’ve read this far, no more need to be said here. Go! Eat! Enjoy!
Green Door Tavern is located at 678 North Orleans, on the corner of Orleans and Huron. You can get more information on their website or by calling 312-664-5496. Like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
Oh . . . and to answer the quiz question . . . during Prohibition, a green door indicated that the establishment was selling bootleg liquor. What better name for a tavern than Green Door?
Extra bonus points for anyone who posts in the comments below this review just why the color “green” was the secret code color for a bootleg tavern?
Photos courtesy of Anthony Farinas