A sign of true commitment to great food often involves a decision to make things in house, even when it would be far easier to do the opposite. And few food preparations are as space- and time-consuming as making sausage. The Gage is on Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park in an area where there's not much in the way of options, and for that reason, they could be phoning in average pub food and still do fine.
But with the kitchen in the hands of Dirk Flanigan, who is also the chef at Henri next door, the food is far better than it needs to be, hitting the big flavors required of a gastropub, but with even more invention and refinement than you usually see with that kind of concept.
It's a big, enticing menu, but there is always a housemade sausage on it, which changes regularly. On a recent visit it was a veal sausage flavored with lime zest. The sausage came poached and split, laid inside a crusty baguette-style bun slathered with butter. To balance the soft richness, it was topped with a crunchy and cool cabbage slaw.
But the pièce de résistance was definitely the giardiniera, which is battered and fried tempura style, resulting in little bombs of vinegary spiciness that were self-balanced by a crunchy exterior. They almost stole the show, but the sausage's juicy texture and subtle flavor ensured that wasn't completely the case.
I've never had a bad thing come out of the Gage's kitchen over the course of many visits, and have had a handful that were very impressive. For good eating downtown, whether for a full meal or snacks at the bar, it's a perfect stop. And if you're wondering what to order, the housemade sausage probably won't let you down.