Serious Eats: Chicago
Bar Eats: Old Oak Tap
Recessed from Chicago Avenue and behind an entrance that would give your average abbot door envy, Old Oak Tap is an altar where Ukranian Village brunchers come to pray. Despite its high ceilings and general expanse, Old Oak Tap manages to pull off a friendly, intimate vibe that makes it perfect for weddings, for which the place can be rented. Sure, it's no White Castle, but I suppose with its stone fireplace and skylights, it would suffice in a pinch. Or you can just go for dinner—that works, too, and works quite nicely.
The mason jars ($9) are a good way to start. Roasted eggplant, sun-dried tomato, herbed feta, and roasted red pepper tapenade are layered into the glass receptacles and served with grilled Tuscan bread. You get the saltiness of the feta first, the sweetness of the tomatoes, and then the long, bitter finish of the eggplant. The grilled Tuscan bread is good, though the buttering seems unnecessary; I'd just as soon have it straight up. It is served straight out of the fridge (note the jar), but I wouldn't have minded a few extra degrees on it. But don't be shy—it's one of the few times I've had the problem of not enough bread to keep up with the dip.
The togarashi crusted ahi tuna nicoise ($12) is a real highlight. I'm not much of a salad guy in general, but if you're going to have one, this is the one to get. The salad portion of baby spinach, chopped egg, cherry tomatoes, black olives, new potatoes, and green beans all work well together, and the Dijon vinaigrette is just savory enough. But the tuna is, rightfully so, the centerpiece. Beautifully seared, tender, and legitimately spicy thanks to the togarashi crust, it is excellent.
The fat boy pie ($10) is a pie in the same sense that sweetbreads are actual breads. Probably because they didn't know what else to call it, this gift that keeps on giving is a mound of pulled pork, sharp cheddar, tomatoes, spring onions, black olives, and green goddess dressing on top of mashed potatoes, and then topped with French fries. Clearly designed with hangovers in mind, it is salty and filling. The fries retain their crispiness, sitting atop the mountain. Dig a little deeper and you'll find some sweet pulled pork and melted cheese. The tomatoes don't add a whole lot, but they sure are red. The spring onions are nice, but a bit too sparse, whereas the green goddess is appropriately sparingly applied. The potatoes are creamy and rich, but literally at the bottom of the pile here. It's a big trainwreck of a dish, and I mean that in the tastiest way possible.
The flavor of the Tempura battered green beans ($8) is fine, and the batter is nice and light, but though the food came out quickly, the beans were not quite hot enough. Having had plenty of tempura while living in Japan, I am admittedly a little finicky. An integral part of the tempura experience, much like going into a hot spring, was reacting to the scalding. These could have benefitted from another minute in the fryer. Also, the ginger soy dipping sauce is overly sweet; something wasabi-based perhaps would have been nice.
Old Oak Tap is a good place for groups. The varied seating options allow you to customize your own intimacy level, from the quiet fireplace lounging area to the din of patio furniture in the biergarten-esque front. It is also kid-friendly, if you are into that. They have a decent craft beer selection and do beer flights, if you are into that. The portions are large, made to share, and it's a great place to laze away a Sunday afternoon.
Old Oak Tap
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.