This post is part of our Hidden Gems series, which is brought to you by Basil Hayden's bourbon. Spicy, unexpected, and full of potential. Just like your plans tonight.
No longer does a good neighborhood bar just mean a welcoming atmosphere and a few beverage and food options. These days, more and more of us are lucky enough to live in neighborhoods where the local tavern has been revolutionized into a gastropub with seriously good food. Aaron Zacharias, owner of Bar on Buena, opened The Fountainhead earlier this year. He turned the menu over to Robyn Marfurt, a culinary school grad who has crafted a menu that's a fine example of what food ought to be in a 21st century neighborhood tavern. Even without the food, The Fountainhead would do a booming business thanks to massive drink offerings including one of the better beer lists in the city and 24 different bourbons.
Two words that should make any carnivore swoon: housemade charcuterie. Chef Marfurt's housemade country style pork pate is dotted with pistachios and served with tangy sweet pickles and coarse mustard. It was a shade on the chewy side, but the flavor made up for it. If pate isn't your thing but charcuterie is, The Fountainhead also serves up encased meats from local sausage maker Chef Martin. An even better appetizer was the $4 Monkey Bread, a chewy roll infused with gorgonzola and large bits of bacon.
The Monkey Bread is excellent on its own, but it reaches new heights when dipped in the broth at the bottom of the crock of Half Wit Mussels. The mollusks from Prince Edward Island were cooked perfectly and, while I'm sure they were good on their own, the garlic-heavy broth made with, in part Belgian Wit beer made them irresistible. The little hunks of pancetta tossed in with the mussels made a strong case for the argument that there in fact cannot be too much of a good thing.
The duck breast is served with ginger, onion chutney, and wild rice with wilted spinach. The rice was a bit bland but the rest of the plate was flawless. The duck breast from Indiana's Maple Leaf Farms was cooked perfectly to medium rare and would have been fine on its own, but the ginger and onion chutney added a mix of flavors that exemplifies how much more than a bar this place is.
One food that some bars have long done well is a hamburger. And the next person who says something bad to me about the burger at The Fountainhead will be the first. But I was in the mood for something a little more advanced in the beef family. I found exactly what I was looking for: the hanger steak, made even more tender by a lager marinade and served with a mix of peppers, black beans and corn and topped with a healthy dollop of hopquila chimichurri.
For dessert, get the more than satisfying cinnamon-heavy soft bread pudding, which is balanced nicely by crisp slices of fresh apples.
1970 W Montrose Avenue, Chicago IL 60640 (map) 773-697-8204
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