Editor's Note: For the past nine months, it's been a pleasure to have Josh on our staff. In that time, he's devoured a truly insane number of sandwiches, gone undercover at Ed Debevic's, and invested the best bars with food in the city. I'll definitely miss him here in Chicago, but I wish him the best on his move to Portland, Oregon. Once he gets unpacked, hopefully he'll start writing for Serious Eats there.
It's no secret that British food is experiencing something of a resurgence. Places like Red Lion Lincoln Square, Bangers & Lace, Blokes & Birds, and Pleasant House Bakery have been re-defining the cuisine to Chicago palettes for the past several years. But perhaps no other place has elevated it as fully as Owen & Engine.
Some places re-invent, others re-imagine; Owen & Engine serves pub food, re-perfected. The handsome bar downstairs with four hand-pull beer engines and several taps is a good place to meet for a pint after work. The cozy interior would fit right into any date night list. Whatever the case, just be sure to come hungry.
Though a bit "nice personality-ish" on the boulder-esque presentation, the Scotch egg ($7) is a great starter. The egg is rich and the crust has a good, greaseless crunch to it. But the sausage is the real star; mild and peppery, but allowed to shine here. It is thinly sliced, moist, and delicious. For being essentially a deep-fried egg wrapped in sausage, the dish is surprisingly light. Though I could have gone for some Dijon, it is served with a sweet-ish, grainy stout mustard.
The Amish chicken wings ($10) are some of the best wings I've ever had, period. Instead of being sauced and plopped into a basked, these are painted a brilliant deep orange hue, thanks to the piment d'espelette and sherry vinegar. This winning combination of tang and heat complement the meaty, whole wings wonderfully. The chive crème fraiche is creamy and herbaceous, but the wings themselves are so good I didn't touch it much.
Did I miss something? When did ramps become such a thing? I only became aware of them a few months ago in the excellent SE expose 6 Places to Eat Ramps in Chicago. An expensive seasonal treat, the grilled local ramps ($10) here are a great way to experience them. Though they come out a bit stringy, the grilling affords the ramps a touch of char and cuts the pungency just a bit. The garlicky, hearty romesco sauce is a rich, welcome addition—well-spiced without being spicy.
The haddock and house-cut chips ($17) pretty much embodies the spirit of Owen & Engine. It is the classic British dish, done to timeless perfection, then augmented by culinary insights. Though a tad greasy, the batter is thin and well-salted, with the appropriate crunch. The fish itself is nice and buttery, and the gribiche sauce on top adds another savory layer. The malt vinegar aioli is a great dipping sauce, if you so desire, that also works well with the salty, crispy chips. It is simplicity, upgraded.
O & E was a great way to book-end this column for me that started with the venerable Hopleaf. I went to a lot of great places in town, yet know I barely scratched the surface. Much as I would love to continue sifting through the tavernous ooze, panning for tasty nuggets, I just bought stock in gray, so my family and I are relocating to Portland to watch our nest egg grow. So big thanks to Nick and Dennis and all the SE peeps for picking me up in their culinary conestoga; it's been a fun ride. Many thanks to all my readers out there; come out and have a bite with me in Portland. I hear they may put ketchup on hot dogs out there, but together we can set things straight.
Owen & Engine
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.