Bar Eats: Goose Island Brewpub

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[Photograph: Josh Conley]

I'm going to avoid opining on Goose Island's beers too much and stick to the facts. Arguably Chicago's first craft brewery, they peddle both lawnmower beers (312) and beer geek trophies like Bourbon County Rare. Former brewmaster Greg Hall is largely credited with being the first to age beers in used whiskey barrels, a practice now widely used. Four years ago, they announced they were closing the Clybourn brewpub because of a lease issue (they didn't). Two years ago, Anheuser-Busch InBev bought them out for $39 million, and Greg Hall left.

All of this upheaval and re-settling is also evident in the food. There are some great ideas, but it feels a bit rushed, incomplete somehow. Great food doesn't open its door to suggestions; good food, however, leaves that door slightly ajar.

The oxtail pot pie ($14) is a good example of this. It pulled up sporting a handsome egg-washed sheen on top like a freshly-waxed Iroc-Z, just waiting for me to hop in. But once I did, I found this vessel was more like a spaceship whose hypersleep chambers had malfunctioned, and the only crew members to survive the trip were the potatoes. The oxtail and root vegetables were just turned to mush. Overall, it is a rich, peppery, solid dish, with overtones of cardamom and nutmeg, and a subtle dark beer aftertaste. It's just more of a stew in a pie crust bowl.

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Upon seeing the sriracha wings ($9), I immediately wondered why haven't seen these anywhere else before? Like, everywhere. But after I bit in, I realized they were exactly how I imagined them. They are chicken wings, tossed in sriracha. Can't complain too much about the sticky, garlicky, sweet-hot rooster on much of anything, but I did feel like they under-achieved just a tad here.

Now either G.I. is not big enough on texture, or I'm overly focused on it. I think it's one of those things like poor special effects in a movie; once you notice it, it's all you can see.

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The sunchoke croquette ($8) is another shining example of good flavors, great presentation, and poor texture. Actually a half-dozen hushpuppy-sized fritters, they come adorned with sunchoke chips and chives, and more of that glorious truffle aioli (see below). The outside is perfectly crisp, but the inside is just a mushfest that don't mentally align with the bright, lemony flavors.

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The fries ($4) come enconed (that's a word, right?) a la Hopleaf, hand-cut to a very medium size, fried, and well-salted. They were perfectly solid fries—they just weren't as good as they could have been, lacking a crispy crunch. The truffle aioli, though, was decadent and wonderful.

Once a year, Goose Island releases Bourbon County Brand Stout. Thick, rich, and desserty, it's like eating a pan of brownies, and then being hammered. The Coffee variation is even better—one of my all-time favorite beers. The rest of their beers are solid. I only mention this because the food is very similar. Solid, good, but just missing that Bourbon County standout.

Goose Island Brewing Co.

1800 North Clybourn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map)
312-915-0071
Goose Island

Josh Conley is single-handedly trying to re-introduce the verb beget into the everyday lexicon. He traveled to Easter Island one Christmas out of sheer irony. He excises a hefty syntax, and shamelessly promotes the color orange. His wife begat him two small children that he regularly belittles HERE.

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