The Background: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen THIS. The green river. Yes, the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago dies the Chicago River green. It’s a sight to behold. So the other weekend, I decided to organize the troops and make a plan for the big day. I was able to snag a table at The Gage, a classier Irish-run restaurant and bar on South Michigan Avenue that wouldn’t just be a den of beer. I actually couldn’t believe my luck. I mean…seriously? I was able to book at table at The Gage, in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day parade? Wow.
I hope no one who reads my blog is a Scientologist. Because I thought these guys protesting on Michigan Ave were awesome.
So too was my corned beef and cole slaw sandwich. And I DON’T EVEN LIKE COLE SLAW. (Or raw tomatoes. I pushed them aside.) But the sandwich? And the pumpernickel bread? AWESOME. (You might remember that pumpernickel made my list of things I missed most about America.)
The fries, on the other hand, were just okay. There was something different about them that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe it was the oil they were cooked in? Oh and also, the cup of potato soup that I started with? Infinitely forgettable. Thin. Bummer.
Service: Our server was really perky. That’s the only way I can describe her. And I mean that in the best possible way. She was great.
The Loos: Hello, Penhaligon products in the ladies’. Nice.
The Verdict: Pleasantly surprisingly nice. I’d go back here. Without any Scientologists of course.
Everyone loves the Hopleaf. I love the Hopleaf. I remember in the old days, we would trek up Clark Street in the dead of winter, when the snow was more than a foot deep–and the Blizzard of ’99? Let’s talk two feet of snow with drifts of three to four–and we’d have a couple of Chimays at Hopleaf and then some glögg at Simon’s to warm ourselves up for the trek all the way home again after waiting in vain for the 22 bus. It was always so cold. So cold.
And the guy behind the bar at the Hopleaf? He was not a people person. We would bet on who could get him to be nicest to us. No one ever won that contest.
The Hopleaf had the best juke box. It only played 45s and it was old 45s at that. If it wasn’t Ella or Louis (Jordan), it didn’t get played. (Sadly, the old juke box has since been removed.)
When I used to go to the Hopleaf, it was just one tiny front room. Many many beers, but just one tiny room. Now it’s huge. Cavernous even. Last Friday night, we sat upstairs in the back, looking down at the main floor, wondering where the space had come from. Had all this space existed in the old days, but was used for some other purpose? Was this newly built space? Questions. Many questions.
Now the Hopleaf serves food, although I vaguely remember them introducing food not too long before I left for London so it’s not like this is a brand new thing. I remember people telling me about the mussels and the frites.
I didn’t have the mussels last Friday. I had a ham sandwich. With some fries.
And it was just a ham sandwich. Bar food. Bar food always has its place. I’m not saying it doesn’t. I like bar food. A lot. (Officially, the ham sandwich was toasted Nueske ham on pumpernickel, gruyere cheese and apple-tarragon coleslaw.) But a Bib Gourmand for a ham sandwich? Of that, I am not certain. (Actually, I am certain. That’s crap.)
The Verdict: Beer (many, many beers) and bar food.
The Background: I cannot lie. Read my tag line. I don’t cook. I defrost. I zap. I boil. I refrigerate. I unwrap.
I do not cook.
So when I read that Bangers & Lace was opening up very close to one of my El stops–the “El” being the underground/subway for my British readers–I thought “Perfect! Dinner on my way home!”
So tonight I stopped in. It’s a pleasant, spacious space and I imagine it will remain so…when it’s empty. I liked the tin ceiling and the lighting and the bar stools. Ah…and the hooks under the bar for your belongings! Bangers & Lace is not a bad place for the solo diner. But I imagine this place on a Friday or Saturday night and I get a little worried about its level of packedness. (But then, I’d be happy for the owners and their success.)
Bangers & Lace if chock full of staff when I enter. I can’t even tell who’s talking to me, there are so many people behind the bar and around the bar. They are all looking at me expectantly. I hope I did not disappoint.
My server at the bar is Eldridge and he’s fantastic. I miss American servers. Yes, chatty servers. I miss them. Because tonight I am here by myself and later is starts to pour rain and it’s nice to be able to exchange idle chit chat with someone, while you’re waiting to pass the time.
Bangers & Lace is a bar menu, for the most part. Full of, well, bangers. I opted for the Sheboygan (as in Wisconsin) veal bratwurst which included melted gouda, sauerkraut, black currants, and house-made beer mustard. I liked the mustard. I didn’t notice he currants until I went back and read the menu online later, but that doesn’t bother me. I liked the sauerkraut, but wondered if they made it themselves or if it came from a bucket because the mustard was described as house-made but the sauerkraut was not. (Yes, in America, you can buy buckets of sauerkraut. Big buckets. As if you’re paving your driveway.) The sandwich all came together very nicely with that melted gouda, and it was a good manageable size too…not a huge American honker of a sandwich. The veal sausage–perhaps the most important part–was tender and mild and had nice occasional snap. In short, for $8, I was pleased. (In fact, nearly everything on the menu is under $10…very pleasing.)
The disappointment? The tiny gherkins. Not vinegar-y enough for me! Not snappy enough either.
Now on the side, I did ask for the ham roasted peanuts. I thought they’d arrive first, but they came with my meal. That was fine because I was by myself and didn’t really care. I had nowhere to be. The peanuts are like honey roasted peanuts…but only they’re ham roasted, with a dusty hammy crust. Yes. You read that right. The first few were very good. They were warm. Warm peanuts and ham dust are good. But after about a dozen or so…I was tired. I concentrated on my brat instead.
The Beers: With this all, I tried two beers from Bangers’ very impressive beer selection; I tried the Allagash White, which very much reminded me of a Hoegaarden, and the Widdershins, which was hoppy and citrusy and reminded me of one of the higher in alcohol Chimays. (But don’t quote me on that because my Chimay memory is fuzzy.) I don’t think I’d do the Widdershins again because it was a bit too much for me, but I would definitely try the Allagash again. In summer. When it feels more right.
Throughout it all, bar staff were attentive and friendly. It was only their third night. Let’s hope they keep it up.
The Verdict: Fun. Nice. A good value. I’d go back.
Liberty Champagne & Oyster Bar Great Marlborough Street W1R 6AH
The Victims: Feathers (you should follow her…she's pretty entertaining), Jen
The Damage: About £20 each
The Background: I had somehow got invited to a party at Movida. You know, the footballers nightclub. It's not really my sort of place, but there were free drinks involved. I was hoping that meant free champagne, but instead it meant lychee cocktails. I don't really like lychee. So the whole freebie thing was a bit of a bust.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. At the point where I was still thinking there'd be free champagne involved, we decided to pay for some champers. At Liberty. In the basement. At the oyster bar.
The Entrance: The basement of Liberty is a dark and quiet place. It seems a bit dank. And damp. But there's money in the room. We can smell it.
The Food: We all order the langoustine and chablis soup. I have no expectations. And it's fantastic. I honestly haven't stopped thinking about this soup for quite some time. It's smoky…languorous, dark. Langoustines are delicate things and this is not a delicate soup. Maybe a little bitter, but in the best possible way. It's different. We didn't check the menu at the time and I can't read the ingredients from my photos, which is a shame. I want to know what the magic ingredient is. Ah, and the brown bread is great too.
The Verdict: OK, so I liked the soup. But I didn't like eating in the basement. The ceiling felt too close to my head and I am not a tall person. So we shall see.