We’ve been to many places in this country that qualify as ‘pubs’, but few capture the warm, welcoming atmosphere – and refined friendliness – that you might encounter in similar drinking establishments in the UK. United. There is a reason for this: time.
UK pubs often have this comfort, live at a feeling that only comes with time, with the rubbing of countless elbows on the bar, many asses on the stools and a sea of pints hoisted into the air.
From that perspective, Hogsalt’s new Armitage Alehouse has the relative disadvantage of being a new star in Chicago’s restaurant and bar firmament, so it has a long way to go before it becomes an age-old pub. But this bright and shiny new pub has the undeniable advantage of serving better food than we’ve had in any other pub, anywhere, ever.
Sitting at the gorgeous bar, not yet watermarked and scuffed, my eyes were drawn to the entree being served to the gentleman next to me. It was a pie, a prime example of that classic British cuisine, with a marrowbone set in the center and, most importantly, a top crust. Double-crusted pies are rare in the Chicago area: what you’re usually served when you order a pie is a stew of meat – chicken, beef, whatever – with a pastry or plate cake top mounted. A scandal, a parody, a platter of bullshit. Not a pie, most definitely do not a pie. Our chicken pot pie, on the other hand, was a piece of cooked beauty, a real pie with top and bottom crust, medium weight gravy and chunky chunks of mostly dark chicken meat (probably lucky but had I had the choice I would have opted for this moister darker meat and tastiest of the bird).
Fish and chips is about as standard as pub fare. What sets the Armitage Alehouse version apart is the delicacy of the breading, the crispy fried crust breaking slightly when bitten, revealing beautifully white planks of pike. As an accompaniment, a thick tartar sauce with tarragon, which is the best argument for this sauce that I have ever eaten: this creamy condiment never made much sense to me, but with the added hint of herbs, he brought flavor to the table.
The English Cut Prime Rib Sandwich was fantastic: about right the excellent meat, English cut, meaning sliced off the shoulder, with enough fat – and long, slow cooking – to make it delicious. As an accompaniment, a creamy horseradish. Divided into bite-sized segments, this sandwich is a hearty starter, full of flavor and feeling just right in the pub atmosphere.
For dessert, the Sticky Date Cake with Caramel Sauce, very similar to the Sticky Toffee Cake we enjoyed in British pubs, a super sweet and chewy confection that even appeals to a dessert eater like me.
To drink, there are plenty of beers (no surprise), but I opted for a gin martini made with one of the house’s Indian gins. As at Bar Goa, the Indian gins on offer at Armitage Alehouse are strongly aromatic, although big sips of herbal flavors don’t clash with the food at all – they enhance the food, as they should, adding another dimension. of pleasure.
There are plenty of Indian dishes on the menu at the Armitage Alehouse, much of which is listed in a menu section titled ‘London Curries’, reflecting the general Anglo-Indian tradition befitting the character of this pub. It is perhaps understandable that the Indian influence on British cuisine can be, at first, a little disorienting; of course, however, the British controlled India for nearly two hundred years, and so the influence is understandable. Armitage Alehouse’s Indian curries are Green Curry Mussels, Aloo Chana Masala and Chicken Tikka Masala. Some believe that this latter curry is of English origin, but others place its origin in Glasgow, Scotland, or possibly in the northern Indian state of Punjab. Chicken Tikka Masala is undeniably a favorite in the UK, raising questions about cultural appropriation, but it’s one the Brits didn’t seem too concerned about – and if a pub in the US imitates a pub in England that serves Indian food, whose food is appropriated?
A challenge with opening a tradition-inspired pub in the United States is that you run the risk of creating a Disney-like experience, complete with comfy leather banquettes, dark wood accents, and a cheery owner. to the white apron who happily shouts, “Another pint, guv’nah?!” Armitage Alehouse has the first two of these three signifiers, and he deftly draws the line between homage and parody, respectfully and tastefully reflecting the traditional pub look while avoiding the caricature by serving, for example, excellent pub food… Better, as I said, than anything I’ve had in a British pub.
It takes time, but the Armitage Alehouse may well become one of Chicago’s great pubs, well above its class with food and drink. It’s also in what should be a great spot, in the DePaul neighborhood, and less than half a block from the Brown line stop. Convenient, if you fall in love with Indian gin.
Editor of restaurants and bars for New cityDavid also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday newspaper in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel coins to the Chicago Grandstand, Plate loader and other publications. David has also written chapters for several books, including Street food around the world, street foodand The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: [email protected]