And ABC7's food reporter has been eating like crazy to keep up.
As he tells us in his Saturday night sampler.
He's also kicking off a month-long series, featuring some of the hottest new restaurants in the new year. He leads things off with a one-of-a-kind cocktail lounge in Lincoln Park.
Calling the Barrelhouse Flat a bar is like calling Jonathan Toews a hockey player: it's accurate, but doesn't quite do justice. The two-story Lincoln Park address has a swanky upstairs lounge - complete with pool table - and on both levels, a cocktail program that's among the best in the city.
"We dug into some out of print cocktail books from the late 1800's early 1900's and really dressed up some amazing drinks that have just been forgotten about, neglected for way too long," said Greg Buttera, one of the bartenders at the Barrelhouse Flat.
James Bond would feel right at home, with drinks that are both shaken - like the Sicilian Dragon, with averna, gin and honey, finished with grated nutmeg - as well as stirred, such as the Creole Cocktail, featuring bourbon, sweet vermouth and house-made orange bitters.
"Lot of earthy and smoky and bitter and really intense flavors," said Buttera.
And the intensity is the same in the kitchen, working on delicious small plates that complement the cocktails. Double deviled eggs contain deviled ham and chipotle, and are embedded with tobacco onions seasoned with cayenne and cumin; a range of homemade dips are available, including caramelized cauliflower and smoky trout sprinkled with fresh herbs.
"Small sharing plates, things you can pick up and eat with your hands while you're holding a drink in the other hand and talking to your friends. But the actual substance, I think, is on a pretty exceptional level," Buttera said.
More substantial bites are also available, like the porchetta sandwich, which comes from the well-respected Slagel Farm; it's brined to keep it juicy, then braised in a mirepoix of carrots, celery and onions. Capers add a briny note and parmesan cheese amps up the salty richness.
"We wanted to be a bar first and foremost, unapologetically. But we definitely wanted to have food to compliment the drinks and with what we're endeavoring to accomplish with the beverage program, we wanted the food to match that level of quality and execution," he said.
So you can't really pigeon hole the Barrelhouse Flat into one category. What they do is simply take a very limited food menu, and treat it with as much respect as the extensive cocktail list. Cheers.
The Barrelhouse Flat is open every day at 6 p.m. but is closed on Sundays. They also host private parties in the upstairs lounge.
2624 N. Lincoln Avenue