Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Postcards from Bunny: Cocktails, Wine, and Beer

Brandy has just been so darn busy these last few months that she simply can't seem to keep her schedule straight, which is why she completely forgot that Bunny was due into Chicago for a brief stay in between her husband's archeological digs.  "I just don't know if I'll have the time to do more than have a quick drink," Brandy apologized to her oldest friend over he phone, "I've become very much in demand since you left Chicago, you know."  "Of course you have," Bunny replied, her eyes rolling so hard they were nearly audible, "Well, if time for a drink is all you can spare, I guess I'll have to find a way to entertain myself.  I know!  I'll find us the absolute best places to grab a drink in the meantime!  After all, you're sooooo important, it would be unseemly for you to be seen at just any old pub."  "Brilliant idea!" Brandy gasped, "Give me a choice of where to get the best cocktails, wine, or beer, and then we'll see what kind of a mood I'm in." "Challenge accepted," affirmed Bunny.

Cocktails at The Barrelhouse Flat
Bunny started her quest off at The Barrelhouse Flat, a speakeasy style bar and lounge in Lincoln Park that prides itself on hand crafted cocktails using an incredible array of artisan ingredients, right down to their hand carved ice cubes.  The cocktails there are intricately designed twists on classics, as well as original concoctions, all of which are invented by the team of highly skilled and highly knowledgeable bartenders (they don't like the new-fangled term "mixologists" there).  Bunny loved seeing that the Featured Cocktails section of the menu was an especially exciting playground for the bartenders to invent some seasonal drinks.  First she tasted Mrs. Hudson's Smash, a delightfully bright cocktail, inspired by the Victorian punches of old, and made with gin, strawberry, lemon, allspice dram for a little kick, and a sprig of fragrant mint.  Another favorite was the Apple-Tiki, a tribute to tiki-style drinks from the height of their popularity on the 1930's and 1940's.  This cocktail had apple brandy, lime juice, cinnamon syrup, a few obscure herbal liquors, and some absinthe, which all combined for a surprisingly sophisticated beverage that wasn't too sweet and had just the right amount of fruitiness and spice.  The food at The Barrelhouse Flat wasn't bad either, consisting of smaller bites like sliders, root vegetable chips, and rustic almond macaroons that wouldn't overwhelm or over shadow the artistry of the cocktails.  "I think the thing I love most about this place is that they play period appropriate music," Bunny said, smiling as she closed her eyes and listened to a vintage recording of Louis Armstrong playing softly throughout the bar, "Makes you feel like you've stepped back in time.  I'd take a speakeasy over a night club any day!  Alright, cocktails, check.  On to wine!"

Wine at Max's Wine Dive
Bunny was very impressed by Brandy's description of her visit to Max's Wine Dive a few months ago, but she did have one criticism.  "How did you go to a place labeling itself as a "wine dive" and not drink oodles of wine?!" Bunny had asked her.  Well, now that it was Bunny's turn to visit, she decided to go whole hog, so to speak, and try a bunch of different wines, paired expertly by wine director Kristin Irwin with some of Max's new fall dishes, created by chef Jessica Brumleve.  Among Bunny's favorites of the evening were the Avancia Godello, an oaky white wine with touches of fall fruits that paired extremely well with the rich bone marrow jam on Texas toast, the  Flora Springs Triology, a red blend with bold notes of anise, sandlewood, and red fruits, paired with an apple cider braised pork belly, and the Jorge Ordonez & Co. ‘Victoria No. 2’ Moscatel, an absolutely addictive dessert wine, served with a caramelized apple crisp that came topped with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.  Bunny could have stayed and sipped every single one of the 100+ wines Max's had on offer (indeed, there were quite a few varieties that caught her eye, and luckily, as it turned out, Max's offers a to-go service with any of their drinkables), but she knew she had to keep to her mission.

Beer at SideDoor
Last on Bunny's list was to find a swanky beer bar, which was probably the hardest item to cross off, as so many places in Chicago have such outstanding beer programs.  "I need somewhere with attention to detail, history, and knowledge of product," Bunny mused before finally settling on the relatively new SideDoor, a so called American style gastro-pub with a beer menu so extensive that parts of it are kept secret from the population at large.  Beverage Director Jeff Van Der Tuuk keeps some of his most prized acquisitions off the main menu, hoping to find customers who are looking for more adventurous and exciting beers to enjoy along side Chef Brian Kwak's dishes.  Bunny had the chance to taste some of the rarer prizes from Van Der Tuuk's cellar, including the Rodenbach Caractere Rouge, a red Belgian brew with a little touch of acid from raspberry and cranberry, which went perfectly with Chef Kwak's pear salad with arugula and candied pecans, the Boulevard Saison-Brett, which had a slight lemongrass flavor and a smooth, dry finish, which matched the succulent smoked chicken wings with bleu cheese dressing to a tee, and the Revolution Very Mad Cow Milk Stout, possibly the sweetest beer in the house, paired with a divine sticky toffee pudding.  These perfect pairings were probably due to the tight cooperation between Chef Kwak and Van Der Tuuk, who plan the ever changing menus together, matching the beers in Van Der Tuuk's stash to each new dish.  "I can't imagine a better way to truly enjoy a beer!" Bunny squealed with delight, "I just know Brandy will be pleased.  And if my eyes don't deceive me, it seems they serve brunch here too!  Perhaps I'll have to plan a return trip..."

And so after her extensive research into exactly where she and Brandy should get a drink, Bunny had a contender for every category on her list she felt sure Brandy would approve of.  "You've certainly done your work well!" Brandy said admiringly, "But it's so bloody cold outside...what do you say we sit in by my fireplace and mix a couple of hot toddies?"  "Oh no, you don't!" Bunny exclaimed, "You get your coat on right now!  We're going to all three spots tonight!"

The writers of this blog were invited to attend the events mentioned in this post at no charge in exchange for an honest recap.

The Barrelhouse Flat on UrbanspoonMax's Wine Dive on UrbanspoonSideDoor on Urbanspoon

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