On Dec. 1, NBC 5’s Food Guy recommended a pair of high-end bars to celebrate the holidays in style.
This week it’s keeping it laid back, with a pair of new speakeasies serving inspired cocktails with great food to match. Steve Dolinsky joins us tonight with the story.
Both of these bars are tucked away in plain sight and they take their food and drink seriously. Each is a neighborhood joint you can drop into on a weeknight for a creative cocktail or a thoughtful snack.
When bartenders shake and stir simultaneously effortlessly, you know you’re in safe hands. But finding the Meadowlark can be a challenge. The Palmer Square address takes you to an indescribable doorway a few yards west of Lardon, the famous deli shop around the corner. And that was the plan.
“You’re like, oh, does it exist here? And then you walk in and you’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t expect that,’ so this kind of a surprise,” said Abe Vucekovich, head bartender at The Meadowlark.
Their first menu has a distinctive theme.
“I wanted it to be like you go into the woods looking for birds, but you find them through cocktails,” he said. “For example, we have a drink called ‘The Chicago Pigeon’ using ingredients from Europe – where they come from – so Parisian gin, but also trash elements, so we have an oleo saccharum recycled from exhausted citrus peels which we use for fresh juice every day, we reduce it, we make citrus broth out of it, add an egg white to it, make it nice and fluffy like the bird looks like; adding smoked Malört which we took from the back and smoked with hickory.
Also, thoughtful snacks, like Spanish anchovies on toast, thick sliced house sausages with sauerkraut and small charcuterie boards. Basically just enough food to eat and drink.
In Chinatown, Moon Palace has been a mainstay for decades, but now the owners’ daughter has taken over, turning the dining room into Nine Bar.
“I think the pandemic has sped everything up and set the gears in motion,” said Lily Wang, co-owner of Nine Bar.
The front of the store still has Moon Palace Express with a full take-out menu, but in the back, Wang takes liberties with the drinks menu.
“We incorporate a lot of Asian ingredients like Szechuan pepper into our version of a margarita. Five old-fashioned Chinese spices,” she said.
There’s also a compact menu — great drinkable items like steamed dumplings — plus a Golden Arches-inspired Japanese and Chinese pork sandwich.
“It’s a fried pork katsu sandwich – big sesame seed bun, American cheese, we use Chinese strong mustard.”
The fenders are also worth noting.
“We use our Moon Palace General Tso sauce for this, then it’s fried in the wok,” she said.
Wang says the transition from restaurant to speakeasy was stressful at first, but her parents were very supportive.
“I know it makes them happy, in turn it also makes me happy,” Wang said.
2812 W. Palmer Street
216 W. Cermak Road.
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