Six area breweries that serve stellar food
Most craft breweries that have mushroomed across the country offer taprooms and the hope that food trucks park nearby for hungry drinkers. Expanding a brewing operation to include a restaurant complicates the business model -- so many brewmasters prefer to concentrate on the suds.
To find a craft brewery that serves more than a pretzel necklace is an opportunity to have an entire sensory experience. From the 312 to the 815 area codes, here's the 411 on where you can pair a frosty mug of craft beer with exceptionally delicious grub.
1746 W. Chicago Ave.
Ask local beer fans about their favorite brewpub and many mention Forbidden Root Brewery & Restaurant. The brewery is inspired by nature using both traditional and exotic ingredients that result in a range of beers like Wildflower Pale Ale (WPA), Sublime Ginger, and Money on My Rind. The business just celebrated a milestone when the Forbidden Root house burger (aged cheddar, onions, homemade giardiniere mayo with bread-and-butter pickles on a brioche bun) was served to the 25,000th hungry diner -- all since the restaurant opened its doors just 18 months ago. There's an all-day menu as well as lunch specials and brunch on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bar snacks are eons away from your dad's Slim Jim and Corn Nuts -- how about ramen beef jerky, lemon almonds; and fire-roasted eggplant spread with pickled vegetables, goat feta, herbs and toast. Chose among small and large plates (the coveted burger will put you back $16) and a cheese and dessert menu, too. As for beer, you can't miss with a Forbidden Root flight for $13. It's open seven days a week, so anytime you're in the city works.
Old Irving Brewing Co.
4419 W. Montrose Ave.
Coming up on the heels of Revolution Brewery in popularity is Old Irving Brewery, with its spacious brewpub and gathering space featuring house-brewed craft beer, an industrial beer hall and wood-fired fare made with locally sourced meats and produce. Savor a range of shared plates, salads, sandwiches and entrees, including wood-fired Spanish octopus and roasted salmon. There's also a limited menu of hearty brunch classics on weekends. Share Kolsch beer-battered salt cod fritters; warm focaccia and beer cheese; and ninja waffle fries with an Asian pork sausage gravy, kimchi and every kitchen's favorite topping, a fried egg. There are salads, two-fisted sandwiches constructed on house made buns, main dishes like buttermilk-fried chicken, plus sweets and kids' meals (Chicago Magazine named it Best Kid Friendly Bar for 2017). Stroll Old Irving Park after Saturday brunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
7700 Madison St.
Exit Strategy not only pulls more than a dozen of its own brews in an Photos all-ale portfolio, but also carefully chosen wine and a handful of traditional cocktails like Bloody Mary, Old Fashioned and a Negroni. The beer roster has gathered more than 40 national awards and the kitchen may be up for a few of its own. Yes, you can get brewpub staples like adorned fries, wings, tacos and warm pretzels, but also lamb meatballs with Tzatziki sauce, red onions and tomato, served with pita bread; a half dozen salads; imaginatively delish flatbreads such as the peach with ricotta, prosciutto, arugula and basil pesto; sandwiches (you know you want that Grown-Up Grilled Cheese with brie, apricot jam, bacon, arugula and balsamic glaze) and entree-sized items like a horseshoe (an open-faced sandwich straight out of Springfield) piling Buffalo chicken on Texas toast and inundating all with cheese sauce. Consider a drive to Forest Park for the fabulous Sunday brunch.
The Lucky Monk
105 Hollywood Blvd.
The flavors at The Lucky Monk are as big as the space and at 8 years old, it was ahead of the burgeoning pack of family-owned breweries. Known for prime beef burgers (nearly a dozen versions), hand-cut fries and hand-stretched pizza (try the BLT with bianco sauce, Parmesan aioli, marinated plum tomatoes, bacon, arugula), the South Barrington beer house also offers a variety of street-style tacos, barbecue salmon, a roster of sandwiches, enchiladas, fish and chips and homemade doughnuts. Named for Trappist monks who were the original hipster brewmeisters, the brewery offers 12 beers on tap -- half Lucky Monk beers and the other half from local breweries hand-picked by the brewmaster, each served at the proper temperature. During October, the brewery is partnering with the Magnolia Tree Foundation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, selling limited edition beer can glasses and giving all of the proceeds to the foundation. Brew Masters Brunch with beer pairings (five courses, five pairings for $40 per person) begin in December.
Pig Minds Brewing
4080 Steele Drive
Pig Minds reminds us a lot of Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, with its industrial look and setting, rock music backdrop, inventive beer and ambitious menu. Except that this brewery and restaurant offers a 100-percent plant-based menu. Even if you think you don't care for vegan cuisine, you'll be pleasantly surprised that healthy vittles can be so darn flavorful. Pig Minds, with a post script of "beer with no boundaries," pulls the tap on tasty ales like Rudy's Rasp, a raspberry golden ale with a touch of wheat, and super hoppy Sweep the Leg, a 7.5-percent alcohol by volume West Coast IPA. Two people can have a great time sampling a flight of 10.5-ounce pours for $15 while waiting for Korean tacos packing a wallop of heat via spicy, marinated soy curls, spiraled Asian slaw, and lime sour "kream" ($9). Every trendy restaurant seems to have a Brussels sprouts item or two, but leave it to a vegan kitchen to turn out award-winning sweet-hot sprouts sprinkled with sesame seeds. Agave and Sriracha eliminate any funkiness in the mini cabbages, so that even spouts haters will gobble these up ($7). Popular items include a barbecue porky sandwich; nachos (who knew queso can be made from cashews); and hearty house-made onion rings.
Tangled Roots Brewing Company
812 LaSalle St.
The four partners hail from Zimbabwe, Germany, Ottawa and Chicago -- thus, "tangled roots." The group aimed to do something different than the 180-plus registered breweries in the state. Huddled between the Fox and Illinois rivers in the heart of Starved Rock region, Tangled Roots Brewing Company grows its own on the largest hop farm in Illinois and one of the largest beer-grade barley farms. The brewery's locally sourced craft kitchen, The Lone Buffalo, showcases seasonal products from $4 sides to $32 entrees. Signature items are char-crusted Slagel Farms bone-in New York strip steak; house-made sausage and cheese platter featuring Prairie Fruits Creamery cheese and local honey; and pretzels from Milwaukee Pretzel Company served with house-made obatzda, a Bavarian cheese delicacy. Yes, there are au courant salads with kale and beets, as well as intriguing appetizers like Buffalo Balls ($10), vegetable arancini stuffed with cheddar and served with Romesco sauce and herb salad, and inventive flatbreads like the Elote ($12) capped with shaved grilled corn, peppers, onions, Cotija cheese, avocado vinaigrette and chili salt. A cured, braised Slagel Farms pork shank ($23) served with warm white bean ragu and a radish salad would go perfectly with a Tangled Roots Stout on a chilly night. The second floor has a whiskey bar and great dining vantage points overlooking the brewery. You may as well stay overnight at nearby lodging such as a former grain bin turned into a romantic round house B&B (marciasbnb.com) or get your family or friends together and book a cottage overlooking the Illinois River at Heritage Harbor (www.heritageharborottawa.com).