Owen & Engine defying Brit food stereotypes
There are an awful lot of ampersands floating around Chicago lately. Bangers & Lace, Blokes & Birds and Owen & Engine have all opened in the past few weeks; the latter two really trying hard to look and feel like a British gastropub. There are cask-conditioned ales and fish & chips, of course, but it also appears that not everyone is phoning it in from the kitchen. Last night, for example, we took the kids to a movie at the City North 14 on Western Avenue, and decided to grab dinner afterward at Owen & Engine, conveniently located across the street.
You immediately feel like you've stepped into a pub in Bath or Leeds, with the dimly-lit sconces and a long bar dominating the front room. The menu reads more like a Publican offspring than it does a British pub, with lots of farmer name-checking going on: Iowan Jude Becker's pork is used for the rashers (bacon) and Ellis Farm's eggs are combined with Werp Farm's rocket (arugula) sandwich served on cushy and dense baguette, while Slagel Farm handles the ground beef for the meaty burger and the one roast chicken on the menu; Nichols Farm and Genesis Growers show up under side dishes, the source of the seasonal vegetables.
The charcuterie platter was especially enjoyable: rabbit rillete, spicy sausage and a silky-smooth chicken liver paté joined some thinly-sliced serrano and a tiny mound of homemade pickles that cut right through the fat. Along with a side of crispy wafers and some thicker peasant bread, I could have made a meal of this by itself. But had I done that, I would have missed some of the best fish and chips I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. The breading wasn't too thick - actually hanging onto the moist and meaty haddock fillets without overpowering them - and the assertive sauce gribiche on the side made plain old tartar sauce seem, well, very Arthur Treacher's. A side of smoothly-mashed bubble and squeak (potatoes embedded with bacon and cabbage) was nearly as good as the perfectly-crisp "chips" (french fries) that we couldn't stop dipping into the malt vinegar aioli:
I'm not usually stoked for British desserts - I can only take so much pudding or spotted dick - but the ones on Owen's menu were, again, intriguing for a pub: goat cheese cheesecake with kumquats? A chocolate banoffee rum-soaked cake with brown butter, toffee and graham crackers? Like everything else on this Brit-inspired, artisanally-sourced and well-executed menu, they were diamonds in the rough of a national cuisine with far too many knocks against it.