Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Northdown Café and Taproom: A Plaid Shirt has Never Tasted So Good By: Laura

Laura Young is an English teacher from Roscoe Village. Her favorite type of food is Indian cuisine and her favorite dish is either Malai Kofta from Essence of India or Chile Relleno from El Tapatio. Laura enjoys dining out for three main reasons: it gets her dressed and out of the house with other grown-ups, ambiance is part of the enjoyment, and there is nothing to clean up at home.

Before children, the Mister and I made a decision to try one new restaurant a week. That, as it turned out, was overly ambitious even without a toddler and a newborn, so our weekly endeavor became a “special occasion” endeavor. Like any upstanding hipster living in Chicago, we only wanted to go to a place that met the following criteria:

• Great beers on tap
• Socially conscious (in both business practices and food preparation)
• Cool, but not trendy-no lines, no overly publicized chef, no amuse-bouche
• Within walking distance-this is the one that really draws us in.

All the Mister had to say was “reclaimed wood” and I was lacing up my Justin’s. Northdown Café and Tap is like entering a mod-industrial rural farmhouse cum retro eatery; a few tables up in the front room, more in the back, the two rooms divided by a nice selection of pinball machines which, as a World Cup Soccer wizard in my previous life, is dear to my heart. The propaganda sign declaring “If Attack Comes” incites a dystopian warning, so the presence of handlebar-mustached and suspendered bartenders stationed below offer a kindly dash of steampunk relief.

The food at Northdown is downright tasty. With a comfort food focus, ingredients are fresh and used in identifiable ways. The Short Stout-braised short ribs on Ciabatta is more than satisfying, and the tomato soup is nicely seasoned and pairs well with the sourdough grilled cheese. While neither of us have ever ordered it, the deep-fried Compact Turkey Dinner-all the fixin’s rolled up into a ball and battered until crisp-appears to be hipster-grade feel good food (and probably an amazing hangover cure).

On the “Food Trends That Have Grown Tiresome” list, Northdown manages to avoid #5: the long reading of the daily specials-they are nicely handwritten on a board by the door, #26: the “gourmet burger”: the Mister thinks they are deliciously unfussy, #42 the cupcake-you really can’t compete with ten homemade pies of the day, and while they try hard to be as local and sustainable as can be, it isn’t overly advertised and to be honest, a server has never used those words. So refreshing.

The fact that this is the only restaurant of its kind that is within walking distance to our humble home is the first reason why we keep going back. But without meeting our other criteria-the quality of the food, service, atmosphere-we wouldn’t have made it a regular haunt. Add to that the fact that they have a small, but amazing selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes (not to mention the daily pie specials sometimes into the double digits and the butter of the day), Northdown has established itself as our go-to both on date nights, when meeting friends, and even entertaining our parents from the suburbs out yonder.

Northdown Cafe and Taproom
3244 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 697-7578


  1. Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write on my blog something like that. Can I include a part of your post to my blog?
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