Band of Bohemia in Chicago
This is what happened.
I have been cheering from the sidelines for Band of Bohemia since the day they earned their Michelin star. This is a big deal for beer everywhere. I know, I know…awards aren’t everything. But Band of Bohemia on the north side of Chicago is the first brewpub ever to earn a Michelin star. This award, in combination with Sam Calagione’s recognition by James Beard, were moves that put craft beer on the fine dining map. While wine still reigns supreme, Michelin and James Beard are beginning to move past the overplayed and short-sighted beer-and-a-burger mentality into the rich offerings that beer provides.
As a closet Chigacophile, I am ashamed to say that I completely-100%-totally forgot that this destination brewpub was in Chicago while trip-planning several weeks ago. I got caught up in Milwaukee plans, our first destination, and left The Windy City to more of a whim and wander mentality. Thank the travel gods for Beermiscuous, a quaint craft beer store, and their paperback brewery guide. While flipping through, I was reminded of the brewpub and made reservations within thirty seconds.
The model is like any brewpub, yet totally unique: house beer, house food, and suggested pairings. The overall elevation comes from the caliber of the food and the beer in combination with the excellent service. Each plate has a corresponding beer, for example, a creative beet salad made with kale, soft-boiled eggs, and a subtle statement of creamy banana-blue-cheese dressing, paired with the cocoa bay, a summer-appropriate black ale with cocoa nibs, figs, and bay rum leaves – a tree native to the Carribean [below]. The beer added a depth to the dish, playing off of the earthy beets and contributing a roasted note.
Chef Ian Davis plays defense — the beer guides the menu, and the food follows. If there’s any doubt that the beer leads and the pairings are absolutely intentional, think about this: the kitchen takes the 2-4 weeks of fermentation time to develop corresponding dishes.
Other fantastic pairings included a carrot lasagna [below] with the typical Italian fixings, including roasted cherry tomatoes that tasted like candy. This was paired with Bruja, a rye and wheat red ale made with oranges, chicory, and beets. The culinary additions in the were impressively subtle and acted to bridge some of the gaps between the rich lasagna and a typical spicy rye ale.
We received impeccable service, and the pairings were graciously suited for splitting between two of us. Band of Bohemia also offers a robust tasting menu, and there are other beverage options beyond beer (but, why drink anything else?) I think the concept would be even further elevated if smaller pours were offered; most of the pours are 12 oz., which makes for a night of serious imbibing when taking multiple courses.
This noodle-like sheet is made of shrimp, a fantastic trompe-l’oeil. Crab and artichoke underneath. Paired with The Noble Raven, a German-Belgian hybrid ale.
Finally, the kitchen gifted us another phenomenal plate, perhaps the best of the night — gnocchi with nettle pesto, rabbit confit, and fresh green almonds [below]. It was a rich dish, but the composition of flavors was addictive. I especially enjoyed the fuzzy young almonds. Sliced thinly, they presented a slightly tart outer layer that brightened the plate, plus the interior nut that suited the rabbit well.
We also enjoyed the amber-hued Jasmine Rice brewed with Vienna malt and jasmine rice. The remarkable malt complexity was far from ordinary. The caramel of the German malt was in stark contrast with the floral rice character that assimilated into the hop profile.
The dining room layout is inviting, even though the ceilings are high and the bar borders on imposing. Fans of open kitchens will admire the many cooking methods including open flame, the efficiency of the line and pastry cooks, and the number of not-white-males preparing food. If I was forced to criticize in terms of environs, the chairs felt a bit like a wedding banquet hall, and the entry to the rest of the space (love it) was not congruent with the dining area.
This was a must-visit that offered many unforgettable food moments, some of which are hard to express. Cheers to Band of Bohemia, and to the day when beer and elevated plates are no longer a shocking anomaly.