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Bar Tue Nov 18 2014

Cider Pop-Up Dinner: Preview of The Northman

dsc_1207.jpgSynonymous with the sugar-saturated, brownish liquid one sips on a cold winter's day, cider is a seriously understated beverage. Cider is essentially fermented fruit juice, with the same complexities and diversity as wine. It was actually extremely popular in the U.S. during the late 1700s, but German beer and Prohibition quickly stymied its growth. Spain and England are the world's primary producers of cider, though France and the U.S. are burgeoning markets. Today, cider accounts for roughly 1% of the total U.S. beer market, although some experts believe that projection will increase to 5% within the next five years.

Cider presence in Chicago is decent, though obviously minuscule compared to the craft beer scene. One restaurant team is trying to change that by opening Chicago's first cider-oriented bistro-pub. From the group behind Fountainhead in Ravenswood, The Northman will offer 100+ ciders in bottles, draft, and cask. Located in Lincoln Square, The Northman will open its doors in Spring 2015, but I attended a recent pop-up showcasing its cider and food menu:

Start cocktail with rhine hall, aspall demi sec cocktail
cheese & meat sausison sec willy lehner's bandaged cheddar san simon
paired with Isategi Sargoda
one crispy speck, three minute egg, arugula, sunflower apple vinaigrette
paired with Sandford Orchards Cider
two harvest vegetable & potato pie, gruyere bechamel
paired with Oliver's/Virtue Gold Gush
three yorkshire pudding, cider braised short ribs, creamed kale, rosemary gravy
paired with Aspall Imperial Cider
dessert sour cream chocolate cake, anise ganache
paired with Riestra Brut Cider

dsc_1205.jpgAs a cider newbie comfortable with Crispins and Woodchucks, the "funk" of wildly fermented ciders caught me off guard. The taste supposedly reflects the earthy flavors produced by the microflora present in a farm's unique soil, though I failed at perceiving any of these nuances. My initial sip tasted like carbonated apple-rot, like moldy Galas floating woefully in a liter of seltzer water. After my tongue adapted to the odd funk, however, I was able to distinguish other flavor notes. The introduction of sugar also dramatically reduced this strange aftertaste, so I favored the sweeter ciders, particularly the Aspall Imperial and Riestra Brut. The ciders were paired with English-pub-inspired eats, including traditional dishes like Yorkshire pudding, vegetable pie with b├ęchamel, and short ribs with herbed gravy. Surprisingly, the standout dish was the arugula salad, topped with rich egg halves and crispy, thin slices of speck. The sunflower apple vinaigrette was creamy and smoky, exploding with a nutty flavor that was accented perfectly by cider. While heavy, the food is balanced in flavor and portion and compliments the cider pairings well.

dsc_1203.jpgOne hundred-plus ciders is quite an extensive menu, and without familiar offerings like Angry Orchard, the sheer quantity of options may overwhelm new diners. Fortunately, The Northman dining experience is also an educational process. The restaurant plans to host a few more intimate pop-ups before their hard opening next year, so keep tuned if you want to snatch one of those limited seats.

The Northman
4337 N. Lincoln Ave.

 
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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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