By Anne Shaw
Summary: Romantic steam punk ambiance with unusual and well executed American contemporary cuisine. Moderately to expensively priced dishes with good service and sometimes slow kitchen, which I expect to be ironed out as the restaurant becomes more established. A definite hot spot and a place I recommend that people try.
Trenchermen is headed up by Chef Mike Sheerin, the former Chef de Cuisine of Blackbird, and his brother Patrick Sheerin, the former executive Chef of the Signature Room. They teamed up with designer Kevin Heisner and restaurateur Matt Eisler. On their website, they define “Trencherman” as “a person who enjoys food; a hearty eater and drinker.” You can’t help but be a trencherman when you eat at this establishment.
The new space does not resemble anything at all of the former Spring. I have read that the design is kind of Victorian – however, I would describe the décor as steam punk. There are industrial elements that are surprisingly warm and inviting which can be attributed to the warm woods used in the furniture and the lighting in the huge light fixtures on the ceiling.
The space is divided into two areas: a large and inviting bar and the main dining room. There are several communal tables in the main dining room and in the bar area. The wall dividing the two areas is lined with very comfy looking high backed banquettes. “Windows” cut out of the brick wall separating the two spaces allowed diners a nice view of each room.
Overall, the main dining room was very warm and even romantic. We observed many couples (including ourselves) on dates and enjoying themselves. In fact, the restaurant encourages a leisurely lingering dining. My one complaint was that the main dining room was very loud despite its romantic feel – it was noticeably loud to the point that I could barely hear my server and I really needed to hear my server, especially when it comes to the very interesting cuisine.
The staff was very friendly and professional. Our server was very knowledgeable, friendly, and observant. He kept our table clean and checked on us appropriately, again not too much and not too little. We did notice that there may have been a slowdown in the kitchen because there was a very long wait time between the first two courses and the second courses. I am going to chalk that one up to being a new restaurant and hope they can run more smoothly next time. One thing I wish I could have done was asked the server to explain some of the items and ingredients on the menu, but the restaurant was so loud that I could not hear him.
Drinks! They have a fantastic bar and drinks menu. The drink menu is very unique and the specialty drinks use some very unusual ingredients. We ordered the “Baby Momma” which is described as Damiana, Yuzu, Tonic, and Burnt Lemon. The drink was fantastic – not too sweet and not too strong.
My only lament was that the drink came in a small glass. I think all of the specialty drinks come in small glasses. Another popular drink at Trencherman is the “Green Hornet” which is celery gin and tonic. I wanted to try it but one drink was enough for me. They also have an extensive wine and beer list and a full bar.
The food! The food is American Contemporary. The menu is divided up into starters and entrees, but the demarcation line is not very clear and diners are encouraged to order several starters to share and maybe one or two entrees. I could equate it to a small plates type restaurant except that you get a little more food than your typical small plate.
We ordered the Pickled Tots, Beet Burrata, Scallop, Slow Smoked Texas Brisket and for dessert a cherry dish with almond cake and ice cream. We shared everything. The Pickled Tots, Beet Burrata and Scallop are considered starters. The brisket was an entrée. Each dish was done and presented well with very interesting flavors.
Pickled Tots: Chicken Breast Bresaola, Red Onion Yogurt and Scallions. This was probably the most unusual dish. It involved tater tots (potatoes shaped like tater tots) sitting on the red onion yogurt with what I thought were noodles on top, but turned out to be long strips of smoked and cured chicken. There was a generous portion of the chicken breast, but I felt not enough tater tots and red onion yogurt to cut the saltiness of the chicken. Overall it was a very good dish. Photo at right courtesy of Matt Eisler.
Beet Burrata: Baby Lettuces, Radish and Orange. This was basically a salad that included about two kinds of beets (as far as I could tell) and also mozzarella that was a beet color. We could not figure out what it was at first because of the color. The salad was good, but it was kind of bland and I was expecting more. (NOTE/update: The Beet Burrata is no longer on the menu; there is a new beet dish.)
Scallop: Avgolemono, Bamboo Rice, Egg Yolk Bottarga, Asparagus Seeds, and Lovage. This dish was amazing. I ordered it because of the ingredients and I love scallops. I had no idea what to expect. The dish was served in a bowl with about 4 large seared scallops perfectly cooked sitting in a fantastic foam. The foam had a light lemony taste that complimented the scallops. I could not tell which was what in the bowl, but it was perfectly executed.
Slow Smoked Texas Brisket: Trencheritos, Mustard, Garganelli, Snow Peas, Cornichons. This was another well done and unusual dish. The brisket had a nice slow cooked texture to it which was tender and firm and the smoky flavor was not overly done. The trencheritos were basically small dark corn chips which added crunch to the dish in addition to the cornichons and the snow peas. Although this dish contained an eclectic mixture of flavors and textures, they worked together. However, the trencheritos were a bit surprising because they were unexpected and hard to see since the small chips were a dark color.
Overall, I would return to try other dishes, but I would consider it almost a special occasion restaurant or a fancy date restaurant. The bar might be a different story, but I haven’t had a chance to spend time in it. The dishes ranged from $9 to $27 with an average dish about $15. You can expect to spend at least $100 with two drinks for two people.
Trenchermen, 2039 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60647, P: (773) 661-1540
Hours: Sunday – Thursday: 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday – Saturday: 5:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. www.trenchermen.com
About the Author: Anne Shaw spearheaded the movement and campaign to save the 13th District Police Station from closing and continues her fight for public safety and strong police presence in the 1st Ward. An award winning attorney for 16 years, exclusively representing families and small businesses, Shaw has been active in the East Village for almost a decade and was the Vice President of the East Village Association in 2003. Additionally, Anne has been active in the Chicagoland community for almost two decades, most recently founding and chairing two pro bono legal clinics serving poor, immigrant, and underrepresented communities. For more information about Anne Shaw, please visit www.FriendsforAnneShaw.org.