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Openings Thu Dec 18 2014

There's No Quackery at the New Duck Inn

Duck Inn Exterior

Kevin Hickey, the Four Seasons Hotel veteran and executive chef behind Bottlefork and Rockit Ranch Productions, likely never imagined as he was playing Atari as a kid at the Gem Tavern in Bridgeport that he'd be re-opening its doors as a chef decades later under the name Duck Inn. And neighborhood residents likely never thought that what was once a casual tavern would house a dining and drinking experience where you could find something that is normally found north of the river.

But that's exactly what happened earlier this month when the pre-Prohibition neighborhood tavern reopened in Bridgeport on the corner of Loomis and Eleanor, across from the Chicago River, featuring New American cuisine, craft beer and cocktails and, well, as you'd might guess, duck.

The space, although made contemporary with a Sixties-esque flair and modern design -- mostly reflected in the lighting hardware -- has kept a lot of its architecture and blueprint, including the original wood floors in the dining room and brick walls.

"The dining area used to be the Gembara's home," said Hickey. "The bar was in front and they lived in the back."

Now, a four-top sits where there might have once been a bed.

Behind the dining room, a future beer garden, where it is reported that Chef plans to also grow tomatoes for you to pick for your dish, will likely make a best beer garden list in the future if you're willing to go to Bridgeport.

Duck Inn - The Duck OutIn what may be the Duck Inn's signature drink, duck fat makes an appearance in the Duck Out -- a cognac, Chinese five-spice syrup and sherry cocktail infused with the essence of the duck fat drippings from the slowly cooked rotisserie duck. Upon first glance on paper, it's not an inviting cocktail, and the duck fat is highly present on the nose, but the sherry and five-spice round it out for a rich, balanced drink. It also comes with a candied duck-shaped orange peel as garnish, which comes off as whimsically clever versus the kitsch that could happen with these sort of thematic details.

The menu is divided between bar menu and dining menu and you can unfortunately only get one or the other. The dining menu, which represents the more classically trained side of Hickey's point of view, is smaller than most with only six items -- three starters such as potted foie gras and spot prawns with risotto, which is garnished a single fried prawn head worth talking about, and three entrees, including lemon sole and braised brisket. A rotisserie roasted duck for two that you can see spinning in the kitchen is available first come, first serve, and there's also a four-course tasting menu, with or without wine or beer pairings. Although pricier than may be expected for the area, the by-the-glass wine menu ranging from $7-$9 helps offset some of those costs.

The more casual experience of the front bar offers chef driven comfort food with bites such as cheese curds and a duck and foie tamale and feels like a place you'd want to saddle up to and keep the beers flowing on a cold, winter day, including some of chef's own collaborations like the Une Année Waterzooi (Flemish for chicken stew and a nod to the wild chicken that hung out at the brewery when the two were collaborating) Saison launching on tap today.

Duck Inn continues the tradition of a part of Bridgeport history, this time with a little more flair, a lot more flavor.

The Duck Inn. Photos courtesy of Rockit Ranch Productions

 
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Bistro Jim / December 18, 2014 7:27 AM

"The dining area used to be the Gembara's home," said Hickey. "The bar was in front and they lived in the back."

How about some context to the above? Who are the Gembaras? I assume the former owners of the property, but without a reference before the quote it makes almost no sense. How about some history on the Gembaras and what the place was if they were the owners? Dig a little deeper and reveal a little more in the future. Don't expect everyone reading to know every part of a story's history.

Andrew / December 18, 2014 10:45 AM

Did you miss the line about the Gem Tavern in the lead, Jim?

Bistro Jim / December 18, 2014 12:38 PM

I see that and I guess I can make the link that the Gembaras ran the Gem tavern, but that's it? As a central rule of journalism there's a piece missing.

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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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