Omnivorous: What's New | Food & Drink Column | Chicago Reader

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Omnivorous: What's New

Pilsen barbecue, a subterranean speakeasy, and a subprime steak house


For more than 20 years pit master Willie Wagner has been serving ribs, pulled pork, and other 'cue at neighborhood fairs and music fests; now he's taken his show indoors at HONKY TONK BARBEQUE, a Pilsen space decked out in a Wild West motif. Texas-style beef brisket is killer, moist and rippled with savory fat. Memphis-style baby backs and Saint Louis-style spare ribs are sprinkled with a mildly piquant dry rub, then cooked low and slow to render fat while leaving loads of flavor on the bone. The "roto-chix" is very good, its flesh moist and skin deliciously crisp from hours of smoking over Wagner's signature apple-oak blend. The short menu is designed for carnivores, though tangy, slightly sour coleslaw is an excellent counterpoint to the meat; there's also a lightly dressed salad of greens, jicama, goat cheese, and seasonal berries billed as "What Your Girlfriend Wants." "Light" isn't a designation that usually comes within light years of barbecue, but at Honky Tonk all dishes show a hand sensitive with the seasonings, and leisurely cooking leaves meat surprisingly grease free. Wagner, serious about his craft, doesn't serve anything slathered in goo, though two sauces--one sweet, one tangy--are available on the table, if you must. Cash only; BYOB. --David Hammond

Honky Tonk Barbeque

1213 W. 18th, 312-226-7427

You've got to like any place that serves one great dish. So I'm willing to forgive Paramount Room a lot for the sake of the Guinness Stout-braised Berkshire pork shank, as succulent and flavorful a hunk of pig as I've ever eaten. This gastropub and lounge from Jon Young (Kitsch'n) and Stephen Dunne (Volo Wine Bar) has other assets too: a well-chosen list of Belgian and boutique beers, the cheekiness to offer "optional complimentary bourbon-cured foie gras" with its (limp) $18 brioche French toast, a plump burger of house-ground American Kobe beef with a choice of artisanal cheeses, and for dessert, a top-notch black-and-tan float made with Guinness ice cream and Abita root beer. What's to forgive? Underwhelming, overpriced oysters Rockefeller (four small ones for $10) and less-than-crisp fries ($6) were among the disappointments on an eclectic menu that jumps between bar favorites (fried pickle spears, Scotch egg) and fancy fare (Kobe steak, duck leg confit). Service snafus, such as the delivery of another table's food to ours, probably multiply with the crowds. And most of the seating is in the basement--a redone Depression-era speakeasy with a balcony, a pool table, and a DJ setup but no elevator--making the place inaccessible to anyone with a disability. Even the two booths in the street-level room are up a step, as is the entrance. Get a ramp, guys, and revamp those booths! --Anne Spiselman

Paramount Room

415 N. Milwaukee, 312-829-6300

On the main floor of this boudoirish steak house, the huge red-velvet-draped window, incongruously flanked by plasma TVs, offers a luxe view of the Bank One lobby. A glance at the menu and you see why an ATM might be necessary. But it's no surprise that the latest outlet of the local chain known for its staid food and gargantuan portions would be pricey. What is surprising is how poorly it executes the standards: almost everything at Rosebud Prime is subprime. For $10 you get a closefisted pour of Maker's Mark, for $12 a weak martini, dispensed at the table with a flourish defeated by the drink's paltriness. Oysters Rockefeller were respectable, served on a gritty bed of seasoned salt, each half shell retaining a bit of oyster liquor. Also on the plus side was the complimentary bread basket, including a crisp, cheesy flatbread and a raisin pump--I enjoyed it before the waiter snatched it from the table. If he intended to help us save room for our steaks, he needn't have bothered: a $32 petite filet, ordered medium rare and served well past medium, is hard to swallow under any circumstances. Give the kitchen some credit--I was jealously eyeing my companion's $45 Chicago rib eye, juicy and cooked the requested shade of pink. But soggy pommes frites made a bad thing worse, and I left thinking of all the good places I could have gone for the money. --Kate Schmidt

Rosebud Prime

1 S. Dearborn, 312-384-1900


Ai Sushi 358 W. Ontario, 312-335-9888

Brasserie Ruhlmann 500 W. Superior, 312-494-1900

Macello 1235 W. Lake, 312-850-9870

La Madia 59 W. Grand, 312-329-0400

Maya del Sol 144 S. Oak Park, Oak Park, 708-358-9800

Old Town Brasserie 1209 N. Wells, 312-943-3000


Butter 130 S. Green

Saltaus 1350 W. Randolph

Schwa 1466 N. Ashland

For more on food and drink, see our blog The Food Chain at

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