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John Barleycorn impresses with both food and cocktails in River North
John Barleycorn is a spot that most people think of first as a bar and second as a restaurant. After my recent visit, I think those two concepts should be reversed. The cocktail program at John Barleycorn is superior but the food is well worth a visit on its own.
John Barleycorn is justifiably famous for their burgers. Check out their gourmet burger menu and you will understand why. They also have a superior and well-crafted menu of “bar comfort food” including nachos, pretzel bites, potato skins, and such. For me, however, there were a few stand-out new items on the menu that deserve your attention.
Sliders: OK. So sliders are nothing new or exciting on most menus, I will grant you that. But the two I sampled were definitely better than your average slider. When you visit John Barleycorn, make sure to sample both the BBQ Pulled Pork Slider (12-hour smoked Boston butt, beer BBQ sauce, pickled sweet red onions) and the Pit-Smoked Brisket Slider (16-hour smoked beef brisket, two layer spice rub, pickled sweet red onions). The barbecue is sourced from the Old Crow Smokehouse and is some of the best I have tasted in Chicago.
Tuna Tartare(sushi grade yellow fin tuna, avocado, red bell pepper, capers, spinach, balsamic glaze, soy sauce): I am a huge fan of tuna tartare and absolutely loved this one. The preparation includes slices of avocado and a nice drizzle of balsamic reduction. The combination of the sweet/sour balsamic with the avocado and tuna definitely makes this one better.
Grilled Calamari: The calamari comes on skewers, lightly grilled so that it remains tender. This is a simple preparation, but tremendously tasty and satisfying. Honestly, you probably won’t even want to dip it into the marinara sauce and it really doesn’t even need the squeeze of lemon that so many calamari preparations need. This one was superb.
Bone Marrow:You have to be a fan of bone marrow to try this, of course, but this one was awesome. First, the portion is gigantic – four huge bone halves. This appetizer should be shared and would easily be perfect for four people. Second, they serve it with small ramekins of fruit preserves – apricot, mango, and cranberry on the night I sampled this. The sweetness of the preserves combined with the über richness of the marrow is a nice combination.
John Barleycorn obviously has a superior selection of beer and standard cocktails, but the true star of the bar is the “vintage” cocktail program headed by talented mixologist Jeremy Paul. Each of the classic cocktails is well-crafted with detailed, personal attention. Jeremy will line up the ingredients on the bar and discuss both the history of the cocktail and the specifics of the preparation. There are too many excellent cocktails to list here, but I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with any of them. My favorite was the Sazerac, but there are many more to choose from so you may wish to make John Barleycorn a regular stop for a while and sample a new one on each visit. That is certainly my plan!