Located in the shadow of the Willis Tower, South Branch Tavern & Grille is one of a million such spots serving up-charged food and drink to financially focused Loopers. If my nose appears upturned, it's not; this sort of sandwich/burger/dinner salad place is part and parcel of the downtown dining scene—one that you can count on for a solid, if not always inspiring, meal. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that when a place like this shines, it shines bright. Though not much of what I tried at South Branch is worth a return, there's at least one dish I'll be back for.
But first, appetizers. I've wanted to find another place that serves Pork Shank Wings ($11.99) ever since my deep fried dinner at Girl & the Goat. The take here is different enough to be its own thing, though: for starters, the nicely cooked pork is broken down into individual portions that actually resemble wings. I would be crazy about these were it not for the sickly sweet 'barbecue' sauce that makes them taste like Swedish meatballs. Too bad.
Let's get the rest of the bad news out of the way: the Black & Bleu Burger ($11.99) is underwhelming across the board. Dirty pink and mostly gray, the patty itself lacks salt and the peppercorn crust that the menu promises. I appreciate the toasted marshmallow-esque bleu cheese topper, but the mealy tomato slice and pair of raw red onion rings make for a sad, paltry garnish that all the mustard in the world won't remedy.
Unfortunately, the under cooked and under salted French Fries are a miss, too.
Same goes for the room temp Sweet Potato Fries ($1.00 up-charge to any sandwich or burger). If I were into that sort of thing, I'd probably go with the tater tots next time.
But oh, the Turkey Club ($10.99)! I'm a sucker for a good club and will order one at any opportunity (given there's no cheese on it), and this is easily one of the best I've ever had. First, fillings. The juicy turkey itself has some grain to it—bespeaking its whole-breast, roasted origins. Combined with the Dijon sage aioli, it's so good that I'm beyond willing to overlook those aforementioned mealy tomatoes and the fact that there may not have been any bacon on my half. I didn't even miss it.
Second, structure. Have you ever seen a club assembled with such strong lines, with so much boxy panache? Anyway. If I had to nitpick, though, it would be with the toasting level of the tripartite multigrain bread—the outer crust is a little hard to eat without experiencing the Captain Crunch effect.
South Branch's menu promises that it has "something for everyone." Such a boast is usually a sign of menu-wide mediocrity disguised as "options." But with so many new places committed to doing one thing and doing it right, how about we go ahead and pretend South Branch is one of those places and that thing is the Club? I'm in if you are.