Setting and menu
Back in mid-November I had the opportunity to head out to Chicago with my cousin Lauren, and some friends. Having never been to the Windy City, I was really excited to head out, although for just two days, to explore a bit of the city’s famed food culture.
I had previously interviewed executive Stephen Andrews about the newest opening of Earls Kitchen + Bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and I found this quick trip to be the perfect time to stop into the restaurant to eat, drink, and be merry.
B-flat by Ricky Alvarez, #ArtOfEarls
The restaurant was situated in a hip shopping and dining area in Lincoln Park right on North Clybourn Ave. The space was quite large, with a lovely outdoor dining space, specially equipped with weatherproof furniture, fire pits, and heating lamps to keep guests warm when it is brisk out. Upon entering, the aesthetics of the exterior melded into the main dining room, featuring two bars, one massive with all around seating for those that prefer a more casual outing, and a smaller bar near the entrance to cater to patrons present for a sit down dinner, or more formal outing.
Muddy Waters by Erik den Breejen, #ArtOfEarls
Unique artwork was ever present, including a huge wall installation in the bar area entitled B-flat by Vancouver-based artist Ricky Alvarez, which was created using a plethora of trumpets. Also of note was the Muddy Waters collage by Erik den Breejen in the main dining room, comprised of Muddy Waters lyrics that create a portrait of the famed Chicago musician.
The staff greeted us, gave us the lowdown on the space and Earls as a chain, and quickly seated my cousin and I at a dining table. We were given a full description of items on the menu, and were treated to all courses. Here is what we ate!
We began our evening with appetizers to share, and specialty cocktails. We shared three appetizers including the Korean Hot Wings, Dynamite Roll which was made of shrimp, mango and avocado sushi, sriracha mayo, black sesame and unagi maple, and a Corn poblano dip topped with jalapeño and served with fried bread. Everything was delicious, but the wings were definitely off the chain, containing the perfect amount of sweet and spice.
Bees Knees cocktail
Cocktails came our way about every fifteen minutes, and I can definitely say that I was tipsy by the end of the evening. I will highlight my favorites, one being the Bees Knees cocktail above. Comprised of Aviation Gin, Cointreau, honey, fresh lemon, and angostura bitters, I was quite surprised that I loved this cocktail so much as it was gin based. I usually go for rum or tequila based drinks. I had two of these.
The Paloma cocktail was a not-so-classic Paloma recipe, comprised of Espolon Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice and Jarritos Mexican grapefruit soda. Both Lauren and I enjoyed this cocktail as it was super fresh, not too sweet, with a deep tequila flavor. Reminiscent of a vacation somewhere tropical, like Tulum.
My entree: Salmon
Entrees were so hard to pick as all the offerings were amazing, but our plan of action was to pick two completely different plates so we could share. We went the surf & turf route, with Lauren choosing a Chimichurri Skirt Steak, and me choosing a Mediterranean infused Salmon plate.
The earthiness of my dish muted my salmon in a nice way. The grains, legumes, and tomato-based sauce that the salmon steak laid upon brought about a medley of flavors to the salmon that I was not used to, but in an exciting way.
Lauren’s entree: Chimichurri Skirt Steak
Lauren’s chimichurri skirt steak was just delectable. The Earls chain only uses the best beef, “Certified Humane Creekstone Farms Black Angus Beef free of antibiotics with no added hormones”, and boy does it show. Served in an iron skillet, the beef was so fresh and tender, cooked perfectly with baby potatoes, and pan roasted cherry tomatoes. I can definitely see now why this is a favorite among patrons.
Lemon Meringue cocktail
As with our appetizers, more cocktails came with dinner. A standout for me was the Lemon Meringue cocktail. Comprised of Skyy Vodka, Limoncello, and meringue foam, the cocktail tasted almost as good as Lauren’s mother’s family famous lemon meringue pie. A feat indeed.
Silly Wabbit cocktail
Lauren’s favorite cocktail of the evening, which I also enjoyed, was the Silly Wabbit. Comprised of vodka and fresh carrot juice with a few other ingredients, Lauren described the drink as a “nice cool breeze” and gave her that feeling you get after having a great work out at the gym. The carrot juice makes you feel super healthy, but don’t be fooled; the vodka has a kick!
Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding
And then came dessert. We had a bit of a sampling. The pumpkin pie was delectable and reminiscent of something your grandma would make. Spiced just right and topped with fresh whipped cream, it was a treat. The Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding was a staff favorite, so we decided to try it as well. The combination of warm pudding cake atop chocolate and toffee sauces, paired with vanilla ice cream was pretty much the best of both worlds. I like the balance of sweetness and textures.
Upon completing our meal, we were greeted with, you guessed it, more cocktails, and treated to a unique tour of the restaurant’s kitchen and prep spaces with Senior Sous Chef, Jovahn Sandhu.
Since I am a complete food and kitchen nerd, the kitchen tour may have been even more exciting than the food and cocktails! Jovahn introduced us to the kitchen staff, and showed us all of their stations; every thing from sauce and condiment prep, to meats, to baked goods and more. It was really intriguing to see how many moving parts are needed to get the final meal on your plate at super fast speed.
Even more exciting for me, was taking a step into the refrigerators. I cannot truly gauge the amount of square footage the refrigerators took up, but with racks and product, you could still fit a small dance party of folks within. Above you see all the containers of sauces, that are prepped fresh each day before dawn.
Zests for cocktails
As I am a bit of a cocktail snob, it was great for me to see where all of the zests for the cocktails you saw above, and more, were stored. These things that may seem so small, are so important to the diner’s overall experience from a taste and time perspective. I was so geeked it was probably embarrassing, especially as my drinks were starting to hit me during the tour. Despite all this, Jovahn and crew were super detailed and helpful, giving me all the information I was seeking, and then some.
We finished our tour with some insight on the bar culture of Earls from Lounge Manager, Taylor Happy, who had been present throughout our meal, helping with suggestions. He showed us the outdoor seating and fire pit, as well as the outdoor seating near the entrance. With a garage door between the inside and outside, summer patrons can feel like a part of the indoor action with a quick raise of the door.
When in downtown Chicago, definitely make a stop at Earls Kitchen + Bar. With a menu to appeal to all tastes and a friendly, knowledgeable staff, it is sure to be a dining experience you will never forget!
Earls Kitchen + Bar, Lincoln Park
All photos by Andrea K. Castillo
I received a complimentary meal at Earls Kitchen + Bar.