Put downtown Glencoe—yes, you heard me—on your restaurant radar. Guildhall, a seasonal American restaurant, is open, and already packed to the rafters.
Although the location is unexpected, there’s nothing surprising about the canniness of the menu, which taps into the zeitgeist of all that is uber-hot right now. The team behind Guildhall is a veritable who’s who of Chicago food: Glencoe’s Eric Fosse, founder and CEO of HomeMade Pizza, restaurant real estate macher Albert Friedman, and General Manager Phil Marienthal (Blue Mesa, Canoe Club).
The building, which previously housed Active Endeavors and a hardware store, has been gutted; the brick walls, original tin ceiling and wood floors have been restored; and the space has been cleverly divided into bar, dining area, public/private dining space, with an open kitchen and spectator seating in the back room, all clad in soft whites and greens, with plenty of warm wood surfaces.
They’ve brought in exec chef Christian Ragano (late of NoMI) to preside over the seasonally driven menu, paired with a beverage program of handcrafted cocktails, old- and new-world wines, craft beers and ciders. Their motives are clear, as spelled out on the menu: “We believe cooking is a craft. We are committed to working with local and artisanal purveyors to source the highest quality ingredients available.”
Adult Beverages and Pimento Crack
Start with a cocktail ($11). The Guildhall G&T is a cut above the standard, featuring City of London Gin, herby house-made tonic “syrup” and lots of fresh limes. And the beautifully balanced Barrel-Aged Manhattan (Rittenhouse Rye, Carpano Antica, and Amargo Montenegro) is deep, dark and mysterious. While imbibing, dig in to the terrific, warm epi bread, served with a ramekin of pimento butter. I suspect it might actually be crack. Very addictive.
We loved the luxe Tarte Flambee Forestiere ($12), an Alsatian-style flatbread/pizza, laden with nutty Gruyere Cheese, sautéed wild mushrooms and onions, crème fraiche and Nueske’s bacon. I could eat that all day.
The English Pea Soup ($6), a glorious bowl of deep bright greenness, glistened with a drizzle of bright lemon oil and a tangle of pea tendrils and bacon nubbins. The server was careful to note which dishes had bacon in them, although it was clearly indicated on the menu, so I suspect that there have been issues with that for some customers. They are very conscious and respectful of dietary restrictions here.
There seems to be an issue with under seasoning in the kitchen. The deconstructed Tuna Nicoise ($14) was woefully short on flavor, although the tuna tartare was clearly fresh. The dish did not lack for elements (two roasted cherry tomatoes, dressed arugula, finely chopped hard-boiled eggs, and “balsamic chips”), but it didn’t really come together. The chips lacked the billed balsamic flavor, and I didn’t understand the plating. The otherwise beautiful Farm to Bowl Salad ($8), featuring local greens and paper-thin slices of radish, cucumber, carrots and squash tossed in a Buttermilk Green Goddess dressing, was totally devoid of flavor. Salt and pepper were the missing ingredients.
The Next Great Burger
Looking for the next great burger? I think we’ve found it. The Guildhall Burger ($16), featuring juicy house-ground beef, more bacon, caramelized onions, earthy Morbier cheese, and whole-grain mustard on a pretzel bun, was fantastic. The pommes frites were hot, well salted and just the right ratio of outside crunch to soft inside. Preemptively ask for extra homemade pickle slices and thank me later.
There’s no faulting the perfectly cooked, medium rare Rack of Lamb ($29), three nice meaty chops over a ragout of chickpeas and piquillo peppers, strewn with mint. But I wondered what happened to the menu-billed, house-made merguez sausage as it was non-existent on my plate. The ragout had a lovely flavor, though the chickpeas weren’t quite tender enough.
Fresh Rushing Waters Trout ($23) filets, served skin on, were topped with piquillo pepper jam and served with an arugula salad. Tasty, but we weren’t jumping out of our seats. We did, however, love the light-as-air Housemade Ricotta Cavatelli ($17) with a sauce of spinach, lemon and Parmesan, sprinkled with chopped hickory nuts. The ricotta added to the dough is genius. They were almost more of an oddly shaped gnocchi.
Do not pass up the side of Creamed Spinach with Pernod ($6). I could have eaten a gallon of it, but then my jeans would have posed a serious problem. That is a side dish of the gods.
Sweets for the Sweet
About the desserts: the weird thing is that nothing was as titled. The Apple Clafouti ($8) was more of a pureed apple tart (it had a crust!) than an eggy, flan-like fruit pancake, while the Milk Chocolate Cremeux ($8) was more akin to a delicious gelato than a pudding. I’m not complaining about the taste, mind you, just the nomenclature. The tangy Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta ($8), served in a little crock, was topped with almond crunchies, fresh rhubarb and citrus, was so yummy I didn’t care that it wasn’t a true panna cotta. I just wanted more.
Let’s face it. Although the northern suburbs have plenty of restaurants, there aren’t many with downtown cred. So you know that Guildhall will pack ‘em in.
3.5 out of 5 stars (B+)
694 Vernon Ave.