I was recently in Chicago for a quick vacation at the end of May. For a city that happens to be in the middle of the uniformly functional American Midwest, and that is located on one of the great lakes (all of which are not all that great), it is actually a quite beautiful city.
Aside from tall buildings, once successful sports teams, and deep dish pizza, Chicago has quite an active food and beer scene. The Michelin Guide, the de facto standard when it comes to reliable restaurant reviews, is only available for three North American cities, and Chicago happens to be one of the three. Needless to say, most of my time in Chicago was spent eating and drinking. The primary goal of any other non-food related tourist actively was to burn off enough calories to get us to the next meal.
When it comes to beer in Chicago, Goose Island Brewing tends to dominate the market – their beer is available at just about every restaurant in Chicago, and possibly throughout the entire Midwest. This once independent craft brewery is now owned by AB Inbev, yet they have managed to maintain their unique local character. Most Chicagoans seem to take pride in Goose Island, but the beer I tried was just okay to good, perhaps even better than good at times, but I’m a tough critic.
Here a few places that I particularly enjoyed while in Chicago:
Clark Street Ale House – Appears to be a typical pub at first glance, but the impressive beer menu puts this tavern among Chicago’s top 10 beer destinations. The wood paneled walls create a warm atmosphere completely devoid of any prentense. Clark Street Ale House feels like a pub that just so happens to serve excellent beer, which is exactly what it is. I had a few afternoon pints while escaping the abnormally hot May weather. Founders Red Rye PA was the standout pint of the afternoon. Just about everything Founders creates is excellent.
Hopleaf – rated as world class by Beer Advocate for a reason. Hopleaf offers a great selection of local and international draught with a noteworthy bottle selection in the cellar. The beer garden inspired patio found out back is perfect during warm Chicago weather (but probably not quite so useful during the cold winter months). Aside from great beer, Hopleaf cranks out some delicious food which has awarded them with a Bib Gourmand rating in the Michelin guide (Bib Gourmand is awarded to establishments that offer high calibre food without the Michelin star price tag). The menu strays a bit from traditional gastro pub fare at times, with creative dishes such as the CB&J (Grilled Cheese with Cashew butter, Fig Jam and Raclete cheese), Ramp Waffles and locally sourced Rabbit Confit. The CB&J was one of the most memorable meals of the trip. Hopleaf is a bit out of the way, but is well worth the trip.
Gilt Bar – has a modern speakeasy ambience, with a good selection of beer, but the real reason to go here is that the kitchen can cook. The best meal I had in Chicago was at Gilt Bar –smoked and then braised pork belly with a caramelized shallot jam over a grilled asparagus and warm faro salad. It was basically a big slab of well rendered, tender bacon – wicked! The atmosphere and beer selection made it easy to stick around for a few more drinks, the dessert menu also helped.
Other places I did not get a chance to go to but would have if I had an extra day or two:
- The Map Room – a top ranked Chicago beer destination according to Beer Advocate
- The Publican – said to offer top notch food alongside a great craft beer menu.
- Revolution Brewing – From what I heard this may be the best brewpub in town.