With Chicago being foodie central, it makes sense that you can certainly get more than drinks in many a neighborhood watering hole. Thank heavens for the abundance of gastropubs. This is the place where you can go and grab quality cocktails, pick from an extensive selection of the finest beers, and treat yourself to the tantalizing offerings of a world-class kitchen. Let’s just say, you are allowed the freedom to indulge on the adult beverages a little bit without having to rely on bar nuts and chips to soak up all the alcohol.
The West Loop’s newest gastropub Wise Owl Drinkery & Cookhouse has answered the question of many a friend groups; where can we both eat and drink? My friend Jillian and I stopped by the chic pub and based off first impressions, it seems unfair to dub Wise Owl a bar. From the masterful hands of Executive Chef Mark Hill formerly of David Burke’s Primehouse, Wise Owl is providing a Cheers atmosphere with some divine cuisine.
The atmosphere is sophisticated with the leather trimmed bar stools, complete with a fine wooden bar. Scattered about the spacious bar, were Owl decorations that perfectly complimented the theme, and sports fans could find solace in many of the giant screen TV’s. I’ll be the first to admit, that I’m not a bar girl at all, but I felt perfectly welcome in Wise Owl. Bars to me sometimes just seem too masculine and grimy, but anyone can feel comfortable pulling up a chair here. Also, the tables were a great size. As a true testament to the size, all of our dishes were able to fit on one table. This is typically an impossible feat in nearly every restaurant I have been to. There was no need to combine tables, so bravo to Wise Owl for getting table size down to a science. I guess they want you to know to go ahead and fill up that table as you please.
We decided to put Wise Owl’s menu to the test just to see what this gastropub was all about. Since we were in a drinkery, we started by ordering a round of cocktails. I prefer really sweet drinks so the bartender created a custom cocktail. I started off with a Peach Martini and a classic Hemmingway Daiquiri. Both drinks featured the perfect blend of flavors, that would easily be able to compliment our bountiful feast.
To start off our meal, we selected some small plates starting with Goat Cheese Fondue and Truffle Calamari. Regarding the fondue, I have this weird obsession with cheese, where I can proudly declare having a liking to all types of cheese. So when I saw Goat Cheese Fondue on the menu I couldn’t resist. The goat cheese comprised of fresh herbs, olive oil and was served with crostini’s. The most important aspect of this dish was that the cheese to crostini ratio was very balanced. Don’t you just hate when you run out of bread but you still have all of this dip left? Well, you won’t have to worry about that happening with the fondue. I appreciated the texture, and the goat cheese also wasn’t too pungent. If you are already a fan of goat cheese, this is a nice dish that can still get you pretty full. If you love dips and cheese, this will be your go-to dish.
Calamari is what I would like to call my safe dish. Whenever I see Calamari on the menu I can safely assume that 90% of the time the kitchen should not be able to mess this up. From Wise Owl, we selected the Truffle Calamari. This flash fried dish comprised of giardiniera, parmesan, fresh herbs, lemon, and aioli. As expected, this dish was incredibly delicious with just the right amount of crunch and softness of the squid. However, compared to the rest of the menu I would only order this if you absolutely must have calamari. There are a few other standouts I would consider ordering first.
As we move into the next section of the menu, we are entering the mini portions. The minis, as well as the smaller dishes, are ideal for sharing so a little can easily go a long way. For our first mini, we selected the Blackened Shrimp Tacos. This dish comprised of avocado, cabbage, and sour cream. The shrimp was blackened just enough where the seasoning wasn’t too overpowering. And the size of the dish was also perfect, as you get a pretty solid amount for a dish labeled as mini. Sometimes mini, can mean a piece of shrimp cut in half that sits atop lettuce but you certainly won’t get that here. However, with Wise Owl’s Blackened Shrimp Taco, while the ingredients are minimal it packs just the right amount of flavor and palate satisfaction.
However, hands down my favorite mini were the Smoked Salmon Sliders. I’ll admit, I place a high preference on anything smoked salmon, so it was a no-brainer that we would select this dish. Everything about it was perfect. This dish featured house cured and smoked salmon, with Boursin cheese and red onions. The only thing I would change is 3 mini sliders may not be enough. I would love if they had a larger version of this dish because I would have certainly ordered that. Jillian and I even struggled with sharing this dish as we both loved it way too much. If you love smoked salmon, I can’t see why you wouldn’t order this dish. Plus might I add that $11 for 3 smoked salmon slider is a more than fair price. I’m sure fellow smoked salmon lovers can agree with me that smoked salmon can get expensive at times, but Wise Owl understands and gives you more than your money’s worth.
As our meal is almost coming to a close, I decided to order Wise Owl’s signature dish the Wise Owl Burger. This delicious gem comprised of house ground beef with chipotle and Nueskes bacon, swiss cheese, house made mustard, aioli, spinach, and a sunny side egg topped off with a pretzel bun. I’ll admit that I’m not big on burgers, but this burger is certainly a must order. It can get a tad messy, so be prepared to get little down and dirty as you devour this dish. To put the burger to the ultimate test, I took the other half of the burger home and it passed my leftover dish test with flying colors. I wanted to make sure that the burger was able to taste just as good at home as it did in the restaurant. Honestly, with how filling it is you may be just fine ordering only the Wise Owl burger as your meal. And it comes with fries so it’s truly a complete meal.
As we conclude our meal, we are surprised to learn that Wise Owl serves desserts. You don’t typically think of bar and desserts, but Wise Owl is clearly committed to providing a full course meal. On the menu were Brown Sugar and Bacon Donuts and Grilled Peaches. For the bacon donuts, it features two of my favorite ingredients bacon and brown sugar. However, I ordered this dish with a little hesitation because I’ll admit that as a bacon lover it seems like everyone wants to jump on the bacon bandwagon. You literally can’t go anywhere without something being wrapped up in bacon. I’ll admit that I love bacon probably way too much, but even I don’t like to see my beloved bacon abused and used with every dish. Ok rant over. Wise Owl’s Bacon Donuts certainly did not abuse my beloved bacon. The donuts feature a soft inside, and just the right amount of sweet with the sugar, and inside were tiny bits of bacon. It features a slight hint of bacon flavor that’s not too strong. You could easily forget you are eating bacon donuts. For a dry warm dessert, I would recommend this dish.
On the other hand, the winner of the desserts for me was the Grilled Peaches. This dish was served with streusel and vanilla ice cream creating the perfect balance between hot and cold. In fact, I was upset that I had to share this dish as I easily could have finished this by myself. I don’t know what else I could possibly say about this dish other than I suggest you leave room in your stomach for this dessert.
My meal from Wise Owl was great from start fo finish and I guess I have to change my stance on bars from this point forward. Even the prices were very reasonable making it stiff competition for some other gastropubs. Wise Owl is a welcome addition to the West Loop and provides diners with even more options for a place to grab drinks and bites after work.
A special thank you to Wise Owl for a wonderful experience and my incredibly filling and delicious meal courtesy of the Wise Owl team.