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Review Mon Jul 14 2014

Upscale Comfort Food at Max's Wine Dive

rsz_dsc_2487.jpgThe motto at Max's Wine Dive--"Fried Chicken and Champagne?... Why the Hell Not?!"--can be offputting to a Southerner like me. Fried chicken is spiritually linked to cold beer or Dr. Pepper, not some sparkling wine that one sips during an awkward dinner party.

Nonetheless, I found myself dining at this Wicker Park joint, nestled within a long stretch of restaurants along Milwaukee Ave. The menu geography at Max's Wine Dive is somewhat scattered, with small and large plates alongside "for-sharing" and "main" seasonal dishes crafted by executive chef Jessica Brumleve. The food is marketed as "upscale comfort," which is fairly accurate in the sense that much of the menu is deep-fried but gilded with "heirloom tomato confit" or "black truffle aioli".

My party and I split the Cheesy Garlic Bread (topped with beef short rib, taleggio garlic butter, house-marinated olives, tomato and parmesan), Marrow & Beef Jam (with giardiniera, parsley and Texas toast), and fried Brie (with raspberry-chipotle coulis). For the main entrees, we shared a Mac n Cheese (with truffle cream sauce, provolone, Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano) and their famous Fried Chicken (jalapeño-buttermilk marinated chicken with mashed potatoes, collard greens and Texas toast). We barely squeezed in dessert with a petite sour cream chocolate cake, topped with candied pecans and house-made whipped cream.

rsz_dsc_2485.jpgThe marrow, typically gelatinous little globules resting in a boney aqueduct, was actually mixed with short rib pieces and topped with a spicy giardinera that cut nicely through the fat. Their house special--the fried chicken--was crunchy, spicy and sufficiently messy enough to produce the classic greasy fingers. The mac n' cheese was intermixed with fresh truffle pieces (as opposed to that pungent truffle oil), and a generous dollop of spicy raspberry-chipotle coulis balanced out the oozing hunk of fried brie. I quite enjoyed the pecan cake, topped with a whipped cream that had flecks of fresh vanilla bean in it.

rsz_dsc_2489.jpgI'm not completely sold that champagne or wine pairs well with Southern food, but separately, Max's Wine Dive fares a hundred times better. If Paula-Deen-like cuisine doesn't have your arteries pulsing with fervor, they also have a ridiculous Saturday morning "cartoon" brunch, featuring a candy mimosa bar, pizza bagels, and a 6-person sundae (read: 12-person). I might go for that next.


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