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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Review Mon Apr 06 2009

Checking Out Branch 27

Branch 27Formerly the 27th Ward's local Chicago Public Library branch, and even more recently closed and vacant for ages, Branch 27 has brought new life to the corner of Chicago and Nobel with a buzzing contemporary American restaurant in a lovely typographically inflected space. The latest from what seems to be a fathomless pool of Rockit and Empire Liquors alumni, Branch 27 feels a bit more mature than some of its cousin establishments, and brings a new sense of balance to the ever-expanding Chicago Avenue dining scene. And you can be sure no one will shush you in the building's newest incarnation -- the prevailing mood seems to be celebratory and the place will be crowded, if this past weekend is any indication.

More thoughts on an opening week meal after the jump...

Exposed brick, muted olive and moss tones, and an over-arching skylight set the scene for a simple and well-executed menu with only a few demure points of whimsy (I'm not sure exactly what a mozzarella egg roll is...and our waitress steered us towards the more conventional but very well-flavored and crunchy chicken wings with a sauce that smelled like heat but tasted like sweetness with just a hint of chili). The restaurant describes its menu as "familiar," which seems to mean not just familiar home-cooking, like pan-fried perch or a highly recommended roasted half-chicken, but some familiar stars of contemporary American menus, like tuna tartar, scallops with pumpkin ravioli, and mussels and fries.

Branch 27 prosecco (and a long wait)The attention paid to each plate seems to be in keeping with the familiarity theme -- combinations of flavors are simple and well-planned, the work of a kitchen crew who know their ingredients and their comfort zone. This is, by the way, a good thing. A potentially problematic appetizer like grilled octopus is successfully carried by the sum of its parts. Individually, the bites of octopus were good but not amazing. When eaten together with the toast, broth, olives and sort of chopped slaw of tomato, garlic and perhaps some kind of mild pepper, the app became really outstanding -- all flavors mingling together and supporting each other. Not bad for Mediterranean in the Midwest.

Grilled salmon was a textbook example, cooked perhaps a touch past medium rare, served over asparagus and topped with crispy potatoes and a bright, buttery sauce. Flat iron steak was just as simple, cooked just a touch under medium rare with a savory-sweet reduction sauce and a "ragout" of wilted spinach, crisp potatoes and blue cheese. The dried cherry bread pudding dessert also seems to be cut from this same cloth -- rich and dense, but not too dry, and served with a generous dollop of melted milk chocolate. None of the ingredients get in each other's way, and plate isn't overcrowded or oversauced, and the results are apt to be devoured. Especially after a bottle of prosecco and ages spent hungry and waiting at the bar...

Service here is in the awkward adolescent phase of a newly opened restaurant, where the wait is long and the estimations of the hostess sometimes wildly off base, and no one seems quite ready to step up and ask you if you need a hand, or a drink, or a menu. But the pleasant nature and cheerfulness of every staff person we encountered seem to imply Branch 27's service will soon grow up to be thoughtful, gracious and friendly. It will be interesting to see if that comes to pass as opening week fades to a memory but the crowds (hopefully) stay strong.

Branch 27 may not be as creative as some of its Chicago Avenue neighbors, like newcomer Mexique or the longtime vegetarian stalwart Green Zebra, just down the block. And it may not reach quite the culinary heights as West Town Tavern or A Tavola when it comes to the magic a menu can achieve. But for a mid-level spot serving solid food outside of a pure bar atmosphere, Branch 27 brings a nice balance to the West Town dining scene.

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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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