Pilsners on tap, multi-cultural food on menu

March 16, 2013 8:39:12 PM PDT
Even though the Pilsen neighborhood is predominantly Mexican, its history stems from the Czech Republic.

Immigrants from bohemia settled there in the early 20th century, bringing with them their food and beer culture, inspired by the town of Pilsen. A new restaurant along 18th Street is hoping to stand out from all of the taquerias in the area.

Many of the spirits behind the bar and beers on tap are local at Pl-zen, the neighborhood's first true gastropub, which occupies a typical neighborhood house along 18th Street. They're part of a concerted effort to bring to mind the area's Central European past.

"That's a huge part of the concept and it also plays a role in the history of the neighborhood," said Cesar Gonzalez, owner of Pl-zen.

While there may be plenty of tacos and burritos on 18th Street, it's much harder - if not impossible - to find seasonal salads with dried fruits and Midwestern cheese, or even free-range, wild boar meatballs, nestled into an heirloom tomato sauce with golden raisins and creamy ricotta, plus a hint of truffle oil.

"There's a little twist and we're trying to mix three different cuisines right there," Gonzalez said. "The food pretty much comes from an idea of the things we like, and the things that the neighborhood was lacking."

Like gnocchi. They make theirs from scratch, but then amplify it with the aid of a massive, braised, tomahawk short rib and a few fried onion rings, placed like giant, edible horse shoes over the bone. Leaning toward the Mediterranean, there's a long plate of braised octopus, matched up with pan-roasted fingerling potatoes and the Mexican herb epazote.

"It's like a Spanish twist, the patatas bravas - the spicy potatoes - with the braised octopus and a little bit of epazote, so once again we're trying to mix a couple of different cuisines," he said.

There's no question the neighborhood has evolved since the days it was predominantly Czech here, and even though most of the businesses along 18th Street are mostly Mexican, the menu here at Pl-zen is taking that evolution one step further.

1519 W. 18th St.
(312) 733-0248