.As I mentioned in a previous post, restaurants with bar hooks score major points in my book. But hooks are just the beginning of everything I loved about The Bristol in Bucktown. The formerly weird ll Covo space has been completely transformed and brightened up with long wooden communal dining tables and a menu of pub/gastropub/lots of fried-but-delish stuff. The word is out and the place is going off most nights, so when we checked it out on a Thursday, we were sent to the bar for immediate seating (hence the hook discovery). Our server was still attentive and patient with us as we perused the menus both on paper and written on the back “chalkboard” wall. Chalkboard menus (like the ones also at Chalkboard in Lincoln Square and Bucktown’s Mado) are an eco-friendly trend I’m seeing a lot of and am definitely into. At The Bristol, the entire back wall, we learned, is a floor-to-ceiling, curved chalkboard, as are the signs affixed to the men’s and women’s bathroom doors which feature a different famous couple nightly (we had Yoko and John). Anyway, the food. So chef Chris Pandel’s menu offers snacks, salads, fish, meat and a section called ETC..there is a lot to choose from not including the chalkboard specials which are seasonal and change out daily. It’s all conducive to sharing (hence the communal dining), even the Caesar salad with Romaine, grilled mackerel and one large crispy crouton.
From the snacks menu we ordered Monkey Bread, served in the hot Staub pot it’s baked in with rich dill butter and sea salt. The soft pull-apart bread is savory and tasted like a cross between the dill rolls at Zealous and fresh-baked challah bread.
For other snacks, I wanted the duck fat fries, I really did. But held back in eager anticipation of an impending trip to Hot Doug’s (watch for this post), and got my fry on with smokey fritters and scallion mustard sauce instead. Savory doughnut holes of sorts, these are fried hush puppies with a sweet and slightly crunchy outside but soft, almost cake-like inside with a savory mustard sauce on the side.
For the larger plates, we loved the sound of roasted half chicken (with its talon, our server described) with stone fruit panzanella, but ordered delicious steamed mussels in orange, guaciale and white ale (good, but they’re no Hopleaf) and the Raviolo, one large fresh ravioli stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth ricotta and egg yolk with brown butter, it’s a large portion, but not overly decadent and I could’ve scarfed down two a little too easily. We were intrigued by the chalkboard menu of daily specials like grilled pork belly with Brussels sprouts and salsify and the roast fall squash with cranberry. We turned to dessert instead and tried cheesecake with gooey and delicious caramel apple sauce and that crumbly sweet graham cracker crust that definitely isn’t made from those perforated graham crackers we were forced to eat at snack time. And through it all, our steadfast server kept our glasses full of crisp Riesling and spoke loudly when the place got too noisy (as it tends to). We were too full to go into some of the other interesting items on the very unique menu from an ELT (eel, heirlooom tomato with spicy aïoli) to chicken wings stuffed with chorizo (weakness) and blue cheese and a pistachio tart with poached Bosc pears, but I’ll be back to the Bristol as the seasonal specials (and the bathroom doors) change. 2152 N. Damen Ave., 773.862.5555. photos: Toki Collection.