"Is it just me or do the English tend to name their dishes with baby words?" my sister asked while contemplating the pasty. "Bangers and mash. Cheesy toasts. What is that nursery-school element about, anyway?"
Beats me (maybe it's affectionate, like Spanish diminutives?), but Towbar, a coffeehouse and cafe that opened in Rogers Park earlier this year, has a grown-up menu notwithstanding its "bevvies" and "butties." All three owners are from England—husband-and-wife Jamie and Debbie Evans are native Liverpudlians—but Debbie says she's always been more interested in European cooking, which she taught in Japan at one time. Her first job here was bringing more-authentic Irish food to Tommy Nevin's Pub, where she cooked for several years before it went in a different direction; from there she and Jamie moved to Evanston's Celtic Knot for several more. Early last year they sold their stake, and in January, having run the Jarvis Square storefront Taste Food & Wine with co-owner Sandra Carter for eight years, they decided to open Towbar in the corner space just a few doors down. Now they're gearing up for their biggest project yet: the Peckish Pig, a brewpub slated to open in mid-December on the Evanston end of Howard Street (for god's sake, please don't call it Chevanston!).
But back to Towbar, named after a moniker bestowed on Debbie's father, who's pitched in with construction and is currently building the bar at the brewpub. It has a coffeehouse feel in the daytime, with an atmosphere suitable for reading or studying. For lunch there are generous salads and "butties," sandwiches such as toasted Brie and ham with pear. At night the banquettes and low lights give Towbar more the air of a bistro. It's BYO for now, with a liquor license in the works, and many of the "bits and bobs" are suitable for sharing with a glass of wine or beer—there's a charcuterie board, a couple of paté plates, and snacks like mixed olives and truffle popcorn.
With winter coming, specials like duck confit salad, walnut-crusted tilapia, and wild mushroom ravioli with brandy cream sauce are appearing on the chalkboard up front; weekend brunch brings crepes and house-made scones. But in season, Towbar's biggest draw may be its cheery patio seating.
That said, the cold seems like a fine excuse for some sticky toffee pudding. Or, since we're grown-ups, maybe some sherry-infused prunes with whipped cream.
Towbar, 1500 W. Jarvis, 773-743-2233, towbarchicago.com