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Brunch Wed Oct 03 2012

A Case for Recategorization: Small Bar Does Brunch

Being invited to sample brunch at one of Chicago's best beer bars isn't an entirely enticing endeavor. The man behind Small Bar on Division, Phil McFarland, beyond a shadow of a doubt knows his beers. They make collaboration brews; they cellar; they find obscure kegs and have one of the most dynamic beer lists in the city, but brunch? I know everyone's doing it and it's a great way to repurpose some of the ingredients left over from the night before, but am I the only one in Chicago who isn't wild about the meal? Most of the time it's just not that great.

However, if those brunch-loving folks know what's good for them they'll be headed to Small Bar soon. And in droves. Last January, Justin White (previously sous chef at The Bristol and Custom House) was hired to do a complete overhaul of the menu, taking what was a frozen-to-fryer sort of enterprise to a scratch-based, locally-focused, integrity-driven menu. And overhaul he has.

Opening with a house-made, bourbon cream drizzled, smashed banana muffin and a pecan roll with dark caramel and toasted pecans perhaps doesn't seem overly aggressive, but when you remember that this is a beer bar, and they're making muffins and pecan rolls from scratch, it's worth taking note. Maybe we should start recategorizing Small Bar. The broccoli and hazelnut pannekoken is another standout, drizzled with lemon and garlic confit which added the right amount of bright and light to a typically heavy duty pancake.

The main course section of White's menu focuses on standard brunch favorites, but with the integrity of a well-sourced kitchen. Shrimp and grits is topped with locally roasted tomatoes. Chicken thighs, deboned and lightly fried rest atop a blue cheese biscuit with smoked bacon gravy.

On the Saturday that I dined, both specials were deserving of their off menu status. Devil's food pancakes were airy and crispy in all the right places, topped with whipped cream and plenty of butter. Paired with over easy eggs and country toast, the pork steak is butchered from a whole animal in the back of the house, smoked and pan sauteed and it is divine. If this is any indication of what dinner is like, I'll be back on Thursday at 6.

As expected the beverages paired with brunch are spot on: a collaboration brew between Greenbush Brewing in Sawyer, Michigan and SmallBar resulted in a rich, deep, smokey Coffee Stout. Their bloody mary is heavy on the olive juice and backed by Daisy Cutter, which gives it two thumbs up in my book.

The truth is, Small Bar is killing it with brunch. This meal, I can dream about. This brunch is actually worth writing about. The ironic beauty of all of this is that within a year or two, the case I'm arguing will become obsolete, as more of Chicago re-categorizes Small Bar, giving it the props it is due for its undertaking. But until the city is converted, get in while the line is still short. You won't regret it.

 
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damon / October 3, 2012 12:11 PM

i HEART small bar. now i'll never leave.

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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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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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