The Gold Coast Enters the Golden Era of Dining
Compared to other restaurant-saturated neighborhoods, the Gold Coast hasn't always been very renowned for its diverse dining and drinking landscape. Sure, it's a meat Mecca for some of Chicago's best steakhouses (looking at you, Gibsons and Tavern on Rush), but beyond that niche, the neighborhood has been pretty narrow. Until now. As of late, the Gold Coast has taken shape as an enclave for diverse dining across a pretty wide spectrum, from popularized street food and slick new steakhouses to gelato, rum cocktails, and more.
One of the biggest harbingers of change in the Gold Coast has been Maple & Ash, a much buzzed about steakhouse that finally opened at the corner of Maple and State. Sure the area already has steakhouses aplenty, but this restaurant promised to be a concept like no other. First of all, the talent behind the restaurant reads like an A-List who's-who of food and beverage pros. There's chef David Ochs, chef Danny Grant, star sommelier Belinda Chang, and beverage director Cristiana DeLucca. The multi-tiered, multi-story wood-fired steakhouse boasts a 12-foot wood and coal hearth and an opulent space designed by renowned Karen Herold of Studio K. A far cry from your typical steakhouse fare, the menu at Maple & Ash is full of decadent surprises, starting with appetizers like Sauternes-soaked foie gras, coal-baked French onion soup, and lamb ribs. There's also caviar service, oysters, roasted seafood towers, and crab legs. Heftier items include roasted bass, grilled Skuna Bay salmon, whole branzino, and braised beef short ribs. Then there's the steaks and chops: filet mignon, NY strip, dry-aged rib-eye, rack of lamb, surf & turf, and more.
On the complete opposite end of the dining spectrum, another popular entry in the 'hood has been drawing lines down the block. The Halal Guys originated as a street cart in New York City, quickly amassing renown for their chicken, gyro, and falafel platters. With the brand branching out with brick and mortar locales outside NYC, they've put down roots in the Gold Coast for their first Chicago outpost. Positioned on the stretch of Division surrounded by bars, the move has proven wise for The Halal Guys, serving up quick and cheap food to bar-goers late into the night.
While one eatery hails from New York, the Gold Coast welcomed another from Paris earlier this year. Amorino is a Parisian gelato import famed for their signature flower petal-shaped scoops. The inaugural Chicago location on State Street (to be followed imminently by another spot in the Water Tower Place mall) is a sleek, well polished gelato machine, serving up lustrous cones to the masses. Flavor-wise, there's everything from banana and cherry to chocolate, caramel, passion fruit, and hazelnut.
Now in terms of what's upcoming, the neighborhood is about to get a huge boon in regards to its cocktail scene, thanks to the folks from Footman Hospitality. They're the team behind Bangers & Lace and The Betty, so they know a thing or two about booze. Inspired by the bygone lobby bars of Chicago yore, Sparrow is opening soon on Elm Street. The building that houses Sparrow was constructed in 1927, during the height of Prohibition. During this time, the U.S. smuggled alcohol from the Caribbean, hence the eventual surfeit of rum drinks flooding into the country. As such, the crux of Sparrow's beverage program maintains a focus on rum, as presided over by Peter Vestinos. Drinks include the El Presidente, made with Gold Rum, Bianco Vermouth, Curacao, and grenadine; and the Hotel Nacional with Plantation Pineapple Rum, pineapple cordial, lime juice, and Marie Brizard Apry Apricot Liqueur.
Another forthcoming Gold Coast spot is The Little Beet Table, another New York City-based concept. The clean-eating and vegetable-driven restaurant is the masterwork of chef Franklin Becker, who amassed acclaim for his inaugural Little Beet Table in Manhattan last year. With a menu that is 100% gluten-free and aimed at healthy fats, the restaurant could bring something refreshingly new to the neighborhood more known for red meat and martinis. Expect dishes like salmon with avocado ratatouille. The restaurant should open in the spring at 845 N. State St.
- Matt Kirouac