There aren’t many movie theaters with built-in, high quality dining options nearby. But things are changing. The folks in Highland Park are finally getting a taste of rustic Italian at Moderno, which took over a lame Rosebud space right next door to their downtown movie theater a few weeks ago. The Davis, in Lincoln Square, also has some great options pre and post-show (Tank, LM and Bistro Campagne come to mind). But for years, going to see a flick at the City North 14 has meant just one option: Fat Willy’s BBQ.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a little ‘Q before or after the show. But the more recent addition to the block has been Owen & Engine (from the same folks who own Fat Willy’s), a fine alternative to the usual platter of smoked meat and pork. One of the things I think people driving down Western Avenue probably think of when they see the humble, almost faux-aged British façade, is just another watering hole. That would be inaccurate, and unfortunate. Because while O & E manages to offer a beguiling list of craft beers and rare spirits (plus a handful of cask conditioned ales), the food here is definitely worth pulling over for.
Few, if any, “pubs” in Chicago take a serious-minded, chef-and-farmer approach to their menus. Slagel Farm plays as important a role here as the single malt scotch. Local farms are touted as much as the fact they carry the newly-coveted Red Streak cider from former Goose Island Brewmaster Greg Hall; I polished off two in fairly quick succession, pairing them with my British Columbia oysters and impressive charcuterie platter. I have, incidentally, discovered my new favorite summertime libation. Thank you, Mr. Hall.
The kitchen doesn’t just name drop farmers, it also employs their seasonal bounty in any number of hearty, satisfying dishes. My favorite – which will most likely be gone in a matter of weeks – was a small plate of risotto, embedded with spring peas, crunchy asparagus and mushrooms, flecked with bits of bright lemon zest and showered with a chiffonade of mint. It’s nothing fancy, and nothing that requires importing anything that would rack up the carbon footprint, but it’s notable for its sheer simplicity and downright deliciousness.