The term “gastropub” refers to a pub that offers high quality food, which aims to go a step above traditional “pub grub.” Gastropubs tend to be genuine old pubs that have been overhauled, yet retain the character of a traditional English pub. The furnishings are simple, and the food is usually Modern European. The prices, though moderate for the type of dishes being served, are higher than what you might expect for a typical pub.
The current gastropub trend started in England in 1991 and came stateside in 2004 via The Spotted Pig, located in New York City’s West Village. Although I’ve never been to TSP, I’ve read nothing but positive reviews; a meal at TSP is on the itinerary of my next trip to NYC. The gastropub formula has apparently been a huge success for Chef April Bloomfield, bringing acclaim from national critics, two Michelin stars, and a string of imitators.
One such imitator hoping to jump on the gastropub bandwagon is The Bluebird, located in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. My sister and I ventured out last weekend (despite my car’s tires being frozen in ice, two extremely hostile cab drivers, an injury and a terrible mood I sustained while attempting to remove my car’s tires from the ice) to enjoy each other’s company, some wine, and hopefully unique yet relatively inexpensive pub food.
Bluebird is long and narrow with a front room dominated by the bar and a back room solely for dining. Tables are lined neatly along a banquette that runs most of the length of the building. Lighting is low, brick is exposed, the waiters were rocking hip frames and weird haircuts, blah blah blah. I’m sure you can imagine the rest.
We chose an interesting bottle of Austrian red wine for a very affordable $28. The menu highlighted different “toasts” as starters, all of which sounded rather unappealing to me. Nevertheless, we asked our waitress for her recommendation, and she suggested the “cream cheese and melted leek” variation. Perhaps this waitress is a connoisseur of onion dip and Lays potato chips, because those were the exact flavors that this bizarre appetizer provided. “Melted leek” was accurate….the leeks had evaporated into the overpowering cream cheese tang, creating a totally unappetizing sludge effect both in taste and presentation. I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph the toast because it was just so damn ugly!
For our second courses, we split a flat bread pizza with roasted mushrooms, roasted shallots, watercress and brie. The flat bread was, well, flat. It lacked any spice or seasoning, and tasted like someone had just spread butter on the flat bread and laid watercress on it.
We also tried the mussels in Blanche de Chambly Ale with shallots, chili flakes, and garlic. The mussels were on the other end of the spice spectrum: chili flake overkill! So much chili in fact, that the normally lovely, salty-brininess of the mussels was muddled.
I’ll give it to Bluebird in that their ambiance was somewhat interesting, with a communal atmosphere and a loft-like space, but for the money we spent, I expected the food to be much more creative and inspired. Obviously Chicago hasn’t quite caught on to the gastropub phenomenon.
1749 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647