Bottlefork Bar & Kitchen, located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, is the latest concept from Rockit Ranch Productions. Led by Billy Dec, Brad Young and Arturo Gomez, and former Four Seasons Executive Chef Kevin Hickey, the restaurant’s upscale spin on comfort food (and its exceptional cocktail program) is both approachable and inviting.
Originally only open for dinner, Bottlefork has expanded since its opening and now offers lunch Monday through Friday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The menus for all three mealtimes use similar but not identical building blocks, and explore both local cuisine and global flavors.
We visited for a late Sunday brunch in order to enjoy a relatively quite meal in the small space. A pleasing collection of classical, jazz, and indie hits played throughout the space and the World Cup played on the restaurant’s sole flatscreen television (situated behind the bar and flanked by an attractive array of spirits). Because of how booths and chairs are situated, the surrounding noise serves to insulate rather than overwhelm, and we enjoyed looking over to the kitchen/bar counter to see the bartender and line cooks in action. Coupled with subtle overhead lighting and whimsical décor, it was an excellent destination for an early afternoon repast.
First on the menu was the bag of sour cream doughnut holes, accompanied by house-made bourbon “Old Fashioned” jam. While the doughnuts, dense and lightly glazed, were delicious, it was the jam that really shone. Sweet, complex, and boozy, it was a seductive beginning to our meal. The drinks we ordered (from the regular cocktail menu) were equally stunning: the non-alcoholic huckleberry lemon aid and the “No Tea, No Shade,” a dangerously drinkable lowball containing, among other ingredients, reposado tequila, mezcal, Giffard apricot liqueur and Earl Grey syrup. We also tried the complex and refreshing “Moving Pictures” (Movie Night tea syrup, lemon juice, orange juice, and soda) and “At the Drive-In,” a tall and sophisticated concoction made with a compelling blend of rums, gentian liqueur, root beer syrup, and bitters (all without tasting boozy or overdone—a delicious surprise). The drinks were exceptional, and we were grateful for the recommendations we received.
Doughnuts and drinks were followed by a virtuous Mediterranean salad (pictured at top): grilled romaine with sumac croutons, olives, eggplant hummus, olive oil-roasted tomatoes, and a pan-fried slice of saganaki. The greens were lightly charred (but still crisp) and the overall flavor profile was heady with vinegar, softened by the salty cheese. It was a fabulous, bright flavor that really woke up our taste buds and energized us for the rest of the menu.
The vegetables were followed by two more substantial dishes: corned beef brisket hash with a poached egg and Russian dressing hollandaise, and the house “tots.” The tots (double-friend potatoes drizzled with pimiento cheese) were astonishing: crisp and brown with a creamy interior, they exalted the humble potato. Paired with the hash, the potatoes blunted the salty, creamy texture of the meat and egg yolk and brought out the sweetness of the brisket.
French toast is easy to make, but difficult to make well. Bottlefork’s take—crusty French bread and egg–rich custard baked in a cast iron skillet—was rustic, both crunchy and smooth. No syrup was necessary, either; the baked custard and caramel gave the toast a rich mouth-feel without becoming soggy, and the accompanying strawberry-rhubarb compote was tangy enough to keep the flavors from becoming overly sweet (pictured above, right). We’d go so far as to say that it’s an essential component of the brunch experience, and definitely not to be missed.
Even after all that, we knew better than to skip dessert. The menu boasts a rotating daily special, but we went with one of the seasonal ice cream sundaes: vanilla soft serve was layered with graham cracker crumbles and strawberry rhubarb compote, topped with sweet whipped cream and crème de menthe. Much like it had with the French toast, the compote provided a balanced counterpoint to the richness of the dairy.
Every aspect of the food and drinks served at Bottlefork feels completely intentional. From the garnishes and custom ice in our drinks, to the compote served alongside more than one menu item, it’s clear that the staff has an incredible level of intention (and attention to detail). While the flavors and menu items are comforting, there experience still offers a level of sophistication—we recommend going with a small group so as to order an array of dishes to share.
We’re curious to see what the restaurant space is like during peak dinner hours or with a late-night crowd, but in the meantime, we can’t recommend brunch enough.
Full article here.