Kelly the Culinarian: A Night at Earls Kitchen + Bar Lincoln Park, Part 1

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Night at Earls Kitchen + Bar Lincoln Park, Part 1

This week was incredible - I got an invite a while back to the grand opening of Earls Kitchen + Bar in Lincoln Park but was unable to attend. I was bummed because it looked tasty, but lucky for me, I was still on the list. Several bloggers visited the upscale casual restaurant this week to take a behind-the-scenes look at what makes this place different. If I had to boil down all the reasons, I'd say quality and care. The quality of the food and the care in the preparation is only matched by the care taken to create an ambiance befitting the food. While it is a chain with a ton of locations in Canada, it's a family-owned business that's new to Chicago.

Let's start with the decor. The art was selected to reflect the locale, and the bar was specifically constructed to ensure an unobstructed view. This particular piece has a patina finish created with sea water from Canada, where the place hails from. The trumpets are in a sound wave taken from a three-second snippet of "Hello, Dolly!".

The kitchen is just the same, basically putting food prep on display. It looks like a ton of people because the manager, Brad, explained he had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 people in from various locations to train the new staff.

I got to check out the walk-in cooler, too, which features wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling homemade creations and sauces. Everything is meticulously labeled to maximize freshness.

Every dish is cooked on demand to order, with the prep chefs starting at 5:30 a.m. for a day of service. Earls pickles their own items and creates all the simple syrups for cocktails, which each feature whimsical glassware and garnishes.

There are some truly innovative cocktails on the Earls menu. Perhaps my favorite was the Lemon Meringue, which is in the top left of the images above. It was incredibly smooth and satisfying - basically a dessert in a cup. It was a frozen cocktail featuring limoncello and skyy vodka, then topped with meringue fluff that was bruleed for good measure. On the right, my table also sampled the Silly Wabbit, Cabin Fever and Bees Knees. I loved that the honey cocktail was served in a glass reminiscent of a bottle of honey, and my cabin fever tasted like Christmas in Hawaii.

As for appetizers, the photo in the middle is the roasted corn and poblano cheese dip. It has a creamy cheese profile that's highlighted by the specks of roasted corn, which accompany the salted Navajo-style fried bread. Luke, the chef, explained it as Earls' answer to the tired queso or spinach dip with tortilla chip option. My table also sampled tuna toastadas, which coupled lightly seared tuna with fresh avocado atop a crispy corn tortilla complemented with crunchy jicama slaw. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to enjoy sushi, and this dynamite shrimp roll did not disappoint. Additionally, we sampled the hot wings and the Korean-style wings, which were a great departure from typical bar offerings. The homemade sauces and custom garnishes made all the difference.

This is already loooong, so tune in tomorrow as I talk entrees and desserts. Of course, you can get a preview of what I tasted if you follow me on Instagram.

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