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Restaurant Sat Dec 13 2008

Emerald Loop: It's Not Easy Being Green

logo-restaurant-emerald-loopMy favorite neighborhood restaurant I wouldn't wish on anyone. Well, at least not on the weekend. That's because Emerald Loop, the Vaughan Hospitality Irish pub on the ground floor of downtown Chicago's Jeweler's Building, is a little bit like Sybil. Just when you're ready to sing her praises, she dishes out something completely unexpected. And at times, awful.

When Emerald Loop first opened just across the river from my Marina City high-rise home, I walked by it for months without stopping in, figuring the place was yet another mediocre hangar-bar catering to downtown's tourist masses.

That was a big mistake, because the place was launched by the same family that runs popular North Side Irish pubs Mystic Celt and Corcoran's. When I finally came inside, I was surprised to find a pretty authentic pub vibe: busy bar and high-top tables up front, quieter comfy booths and tables further inside, and an ambience more conducive to hanging with friends than picking up singles.

I found myself spending a lot of time at Emerald Loop, eating my way through their sub-$15 weekday evening specials from the relative calm of my favorite corner booth. Lamb stew was mildly seasoned and even better, recently prepared, allowing both the pungent flavor of the meat and the earthy notes of the root vegetables to shine through instead of suffocating under a layer of salt-infused fat.

Fish and chips while not extraordinary were also equally up to pub-spectations. A crunchy Guinness-infused batter surrounds tender, non-greasy, and more importantly huge filets (you won't go hungry at this place).

My money, though, is on the $6 Tuesday night burger special: a 1/3-pound patty grilled exactly to order with a pile of substantial fries on the side. Rare meat fans take note--this is one of the few places I've found that can admirably honor my order to "bring it to the table mooing."

Well, at least on weekdays. And there's the problem with Emerald Loop--the food always seems to change at the weekend, and not for the better. Three different weekend brunches were marred by a series of problems, from the kitchen leaving key ingredients out of orders to simply making the wrong orders entirely even though the server gave the kitchen the right orders.

On one of those occasions, a dish had to be sent back to the kitchen three times, much to the deep embarrassment of the innocent server (whom we well tipped for having been thrown under the bus by the back-of-house staff).

As for that on-point weekday rare burger? On the weekend I learned to expect a charred, ashen shell surrounding a cold, bloody raw core, sitting atop a soggy bun and accompanied by equally limp fries. That's before I stopped ordering it altogether on Saturdays and Sundays.

If not for the exotic, truly stellar Guinness-infused Bloody Mary (do you detect a pattern here?), I'd never set foot in the place outside of the work week. And that's a shame, because my neighborhood--the North Loop/South River North area--has a lot of hungry residents yearning for a reliable, reasonably priced, non-tourist-oriented hoodie. Emerald Loop fits that bill admirably between Monday and Friday.

But until they get their act together, I wouldn't wish the place on my worst enemy on the weekend. Steak tartare only feels good in my mouth when it doesn't arrive there accidentally, thanks.

(Update: On a weekday evening meal shortly after this entry was posted, a manager confirmed to me that the weekend kitchen staff is indeed atrocious. Apparently, the eatery hears complaints all the time--and communicates each of them to the Vaughan family. Unfortunately, they've chosen to turn a deaf ear to the problem. So there you have it.)

Emerald Loop
216 N. Wabash (between Wacker and Lake)
312-263-0200

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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