The Gage, 24 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

( June 20, 2013 )

Who eats: Mostly businesspeople.
Why eat: Gastropub grub with innovative twists on bar food staples.
Ambience: A bustling place at lunchtime, The Gage has the feel of an upscale Irish pub. A long, dark bar dominates the front room with small, tall tables running its length. Cozy high-backed booths allow for some intimacy, while tables in the back are more closely spaced. Hardwood floors and low lighting remind you this is as much an upscale tavern as it is a fave of foodies.
Dress code: Mostly business and business casual.
Noise factor: At the height of the lunch rush, it gets pretty loud.
Overheard: "It's only fourth grade. She'll be all right."
Service: Overall, solid. There were a few times when our server seemed to vanish for extended periods, but he made up for his absences with genuine enthusiasm for (and knowledge of) the menu. When we asked for recommendations, he gave detailed descriptions of his favorite dishes. He even suggested substituting soup for fries at no cost after noticing our order had become a bit potato-heavy.
Cellphone reception/Wi-Fi: Full cell coverage.
Reservations: Recommended for lunch.
Menu: Upscale pub food with burgers, salads, fish and chips, and creative appetizers.
Reliable options: We started with the Scotch egg ($8), a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and deep-fried. It might not have been the healthiest option, but it was tasty. The goopy house poutine ($8), which our server accurately described as "dangerously good," was a serving of french fries tossed in a bowl with tender wild boar, stewed vegetables and cheese. You could order it as a meal. The rock shrimp salad ($15) was beautifully plated with two perfectly round piles of greens, topped with ample shrimp curled into balls and fried. A chili sauce gives it a kick, slices of avocado help cool it down. The smoked salmon sandwich ($16) is a bit messy, with slices of bacon, lettuce and tomato squeezing out with each bite, but it's worth the effort. Even better was the venison burger ($17) which arrived tender and packed with flavor, topped with "melted" onions, smoked Gouda, fried jalapenos, woodland mushrooms and pickled onions. I'm not a huge fan of mushrooms, but I devoured the burger so quickly, I hardly noticed them.
Expect to pay: $20-$30 per person
Contacts: 312-372-4243, thegagechicago.com
-- Jon Yates

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