Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stout Barrel House and Galley

Though I’m sometimes cynical about the food scene, one can’t help but think things have changed for the better when a stereotypical sports bar - “a total bro place” as a friend described it – serves food that’s as real as at Stout Barrelhouse.  Stout has more big screen TV’s than you can count, the servers are all young, cute and female, and the tables are high tops.  It’s a sharp-looking place, but I wouldn’t be able to differentiate it from some Depaul-area sports bar.  Until I tasted the food.

On my first visit I ordered what you’re supposed to order at a sports bar: the burger.  Served on a thoroughly buttered, well-toasted potato bun, this was a loose, juicy patty with a nice exterior crust.  It was served with mustard aioli, some barely-melted sharp white cheddar and peppery arugula – pungent, quality ingredients that told me someone in the kitchen is sourcing products with care.  On the side were some picture perfect fries – crisp on the outside, potatoey in the center and well-salted.  I also ordered the house pickles -a seasonal assortment of carrots, radishes and more stuff that tasted as if it had come straight from the farmer’s market.

On visit two I ordered house made lamb sausage, a flavorful, loosely formed link cut into thirds and served as 3 mini sandwiches inside New England style split, toasted bun thirds. Each mini sandwich was topped with a couple of pieces of curried cauliflower, with crunch and intense flavor that served as a delicious reminder that the chef is getting his produce from a good source.  If I had to quibble, I’d note that though each component was delicious they were constructed in a way that was tough to eat – I couldn’t really treat the sandwich as a sandwich, needing instead to pull it apart and eat each delicious component on its own.  Perhaps the best part of this dish was a refreshing chickpea salad with beans that had that just-right, not-quite-crisp, and definitely not mushy, texture.

Both of my visits were on a Friday afternoon, the only weekday that Stout is open for lunch.  At that time the dining room was pretty sparsely filled with what appeared mostly to be neighborhood business people.  The staff was relaxed, friendly and efficient, though in food knowledge terms definitely more like the people you’d expect to see working in a sports bar than those you might expect at a chef-driven restaurant.

I will not suggest that Stout is a must-visit Chicago restaurant, but if you find yourself in the mood for a sit-down, casual lunch in the neighborhood I can’t think of anything better.  And on the list of places with a gazillion giant TV’s tuned into sports, I’d have a hard time believing there’s one with better food than this.

Stout Barrel House and Galley
642 North Clark Street  
(312) 475-1390

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