Lucky Monk takes its beer, burgers seriously
The breakdown used to be simple: Beer was the cheap stuff, while wine and cocktails were classier fare. But as microbreweries and craft beers have increased in prominence, more drinkers are learning to take hops seriously.
The Lucky Monk, named for the Belgian Trappist monk breweries, is the latest addition to the trend. Along with serving specialty brews from around the United States and Europe, the spot makes its own beers on site. With low drink prices and excellent food, the bar and restaurant provides a gateway to turn beer skeptics into true believers.
Motif: The space is divided into three distinct areas. A central lounge features couches and small tables populated by groups nibbling appetizers. The bar area offers a view of the brewery, foosball and pool tables and a bank of HDTVs tuned in to sports. A chalkboard shows info on the bar's home-brewed beers. The dining area features exposed brick walls with mounted beer barrels along with dark wood tables and beige booths with floral patterns. The décor throughout favors shades of orange and brown, from the abstract art on the walls to the large orange ceiling lights and hanging exposed bulbs. While the wood-framed windows currently just overlook snow, summer will bring a patio for outdoor dining.
Crowd: The first weekend after opening, Lucky Monk was already packed with a mix of couples, families and groups in the 25-to-60 age range.
Service: Not only can the servers rattle off qualities of the different items on The Lucky Monk's huge beer list, they're so well versed that they can suggest other brews you might want to try based on your tastes and pairings to go with different courses. While tables feature a pitcher of water, staff members were constantly refilling our glasses for us and even replaced the pitcher when they thought the water might be getting warm. Our server was also very enthusiastic about the food menu, quick with recommendations and regularly checking in.
Liquid consumption: Beer is king, with more than 34 varieties available on tap or bottled. On a first visit, make sure to order the $7.95 beer sampler, which includes three-ounce pours of all six of the varieties made at the on-site microbrewery. Our favorites were the Gr'ale, a refreshing Belgian-style amber brew, and the Pal's Porter, a dark drink that tasted like iced coffee, without the bitterness. With all drafts less than $4, or under $6 for their huge house pours, you can have some truly exceptional drinks without paying a premium.
Food: Great beer might be reason enough to draw crowds to The Lucky Monk, but the spot also boasts a fabulous food menu. Start with the herb-encrusted shrimp, where the large shrimp are nearly encased in savory spices and served over a light tomato sauce. The rich hummus is large enough to share with a full table, served with plenty of warm pita bread, olives and crisp slices of cucumbers.
Burgers are the pride of the menu and the peppercorn burger is a strong choice, with peppercorns cooked into the huge patty to give it a nice spice and a little crunch. If you're really hungry, or don't mind taking home some leftovers, the boneless beef short ribs are so tender you can eat them with just a fork. They're served on a creamy bed of mashed potatoes that's especially satisfying when soaked in the red wine gravy. If you've saved room for dessert, split the decadent s'more soufflé. The massive dish features a thin layer of graham crackers topped with hot fudgy chocolate and oven-roasted marshmallows. It's positively heavenly when mixed with a bite of vanilla ice cream.
Parking: There are plenty of spots in the free lot, plus valet parking.
Overall: The Lucky Monk is a haven for beer lovers and an excellent place for novices to begin their education.
The Lucky Monk
Info: 105 Hollywood Blvd., South Barrington, (847) 898-0500, theluckymonk.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday