& Adventure: Bangers&Lace, Blokes&Birds, Owen&Engine
The Wife is always gamesome when I suggest marathon entertainments (it started in around 1978 when I suggested we go see three Lina Wertmuller movies in one afternoon – that was in the days when you pretty much had to go to movie theaters to see movies.)
So last night, I suggested we visit three new gastro-places with names that contain ampersands, an entirely arbitrary organizing principle.Bangers & Lace
Our first stop was Bangers and Lace, open a matter of days. Before we went I checked their site and it wasn’t up yet; I mentioned to the cicerone that it was very unfortunate not to have a site as “all these people” (I gestured expansively to the room full of youthful Wicker Parkers/Ukie Villagers) “check web intel before they go out eating and drinking.” At least put up a menu.
Our plan was to eat and drink just a little at all three locations, so we went light at Bangers & Lace. We had bar snacks that sounded interesting: House-Made Crispy Corn Nuts and Ham Roasted Peanuts (both $4). The corn nuts (hominy, smoked salt, chiles) were an excellent example of the genre (the bagged ones, which I also eat, are usually crown-cracking hard and sometimes have offensively synthetic flavorings) – they were lightly crunchy and fresh-tasting, which is something you never get from a bag. The ham nuts were okay, but I’ll be deuced if I could detect the flavor of ham (which I was told was applied as a powder; suspicious).
Digression about ham nuts: few years ago, my brother went to the Maxwell Street Market and said he got some nuts cooked with ham, though if they were the taste was very slight. I went back the next weekend to the same vendor and saw two piles of nuts. I gestured to a pile and asked, “Are these nuts made with ham?” “Si,” said the vendor,” And these [gesturing to other pile) are made with a machine.”
I completely screwed up on my beverage ordering: sticking to draughts, I chose a Stone’s Sublime Self-Righteous Stout, which had a bitterness that didn’t really work with the chili heat and it was so mildly articulated that I lost it completely in the snacks. The Wife, who has a preternatural ability to suss out tasty stuff, went with a Leipziger Gose, which is one of the few beers (maybe only?) made with salt water, with spicy notes (cardamom predominates) that helped it pair well with our nibbles; it would also have been a good guzzle all by itself.
It’s hard not to talk about décor at these places, and at Bangers & Lace, the interior design was a little bizarre. There were antique cabinets and lots of stuffed birds (get it?), but in back there was also a piney-looking corridor leading to the best bathroom of the night: it was downright sylvan.Blokes & Birds
In Wrigleyville, Blokes & Birds opened last week, too. The feel here is kind of clubby, a sense reinforced by the cross-shaped communal table in the center of the first floor room and tables at the sides that are spaced so closely that they feel like they’re one table. British vibe sort is reinforced with Sabbath and other Brits on the sound system and “Life of Brian” on the flat screens.
A slow learner, when I order salad, I always think it’s going to come at the end of the meal, but it never does (except in France). Nonetheless, the Wedge ($6) was yummy and a fine way to get one’s leafy greens, with blue cheese that actually seemed of decent quality (a problem I have with creamy blue dressing is that the cheese usually seems cheap and crappy), bacon with some oomph, and Drambuie onions (I became inebriated for the first time in my life on Drambuie, during the Summer of Love, and I have avoided it ever since, but these onions were really good and provided excellently sweet and herbal accent to the salad).
I wasn’t crazy about the precious looking swirls of potato on our Shepherd’s Pie ($12), but this turned out to be an otherwise simple and satisfying rendition of the dish that, eaten daily, has rendered Keith Richards immortal (see Life
). The lamb shoulder, which we were told was braised 14 hours, was soft without being squishy and very flavorful. The seasoning was minimal, but that was okay as the tasty lamb really didn’t need much extra to seduce us.
I had a Well’s Bombardier, kind of a standard English brew which left me unmoved.Owen & Engine
I saved for the last stop a place I thought would have the best food (just a guess, and we really didn’t do a large enough sample at the other places to justify any hard conclusions, but based on menu alone I think O&E is the most gastro-y of the pubs we visited last night).
This is one of those new constructions that is made to look like it’s an old building, and the designers did an outstanding job creating that illusion. The first two floors are dining space, very comfortable, with sink-into-them furniture and traditional frosted glass dividers between tables. The owners live upstairs, which I find quaintly archaic and kind of nice.
Inside it’s dark cozy, which is the atmosphere all three of these place seem to strive to achieve.
We had Rabbit and Pasta (appetizer protion, $16) which was extraordinarily, surprisingly delicious. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this dish exceeded my unexpressed expectations. The bunny was confit, which helps add a little fat to the otherwise lean creature (though this rabbit was farm-raised at Swan Creek, so maybe lack of fat is not such a problem; at any rate, it was yummy). The pasta sheets, drizzled with a ricotta sauce and studded with fennel, were delightful.
House-made charcuterie and pickles ($19) were fab. On left, tongue sausage was perfectly balanced, with a little spice but not so much as to make it impossible for the tongue to stick out as the primary flavor; behind it, a rabbit pate that was done up with some cognac, a good contrast with the other rougher cut charcuterie. The only item that was not house-made was the Serrano ham, which was really good, but honestly, it seemed a little out of place on an otherwise crafted platter of cold meat. My favorite was probably the Tuscan salami (not visible in this pic): doubloons of meat dried to intensity, toothy but not hard to chew, piquant.
We got an extra order of pickles ($6): onions, melon, green beans. This was a good idea.
Not wanting to risk another beer I might not like, I went with an old standby, Duchesse de Bourgogne. This is such a fabulous tipple: slightly sour, palate perking, deep red-brown hue, sweetness on the backend, I love it.
I had two. I mentioned to the barman that the Duchesse was really good, and he attributed that to a fresh cask and “clean pipes.” Whatever it was, this was a superbly crisp and wonderful drink, available at all three of the gastro-places we visited…and I would have gladly enjoyed it at all three.
Bangers & Lace
1670 W. Division
No phone or website as of this writing (jeez)
Blokes & Birds
3343 N. Clark St.
Owen & Engine
2700 N. Western