There are two dishes which, as they take on properties you’d expect of the other, perfectly encapsulate what James Beard Award-winning executive chef Debbie Gold has sought to accomplish at the new Tied House. The first is her dense, crispy sweet potato ($10), rendered strikingly crunchy but balanced by cleansing turnip and fromage blanc. The second is the pork belly ($23). Gold strayed from the ubiquitous crispy variation, braising it in milk instead for a buttery soft take, which contrasts nicely with the thin, winding churro placed on top. “I like to take a simple ingredient and make it the best it can be,” she says. “It’s kind of easy to put caviar or lobster on a plate and get a ‘wow,’ but if you can do that with a sweet potato, that’s the challenge for me.”
It was no small feat to transform Harmony Grill, the casual restaurant adjoining the Schubas Tavern music venue, into a fine-dining establishment still laid-back enough for families to enjoy. Thankfully, the complex’s new ownership team has struck a perfect balance between refined elegance and Midwestern ease.
Across the board, Gold, who earned her stripes in Charlie Trotter's kitchen and returned to Chicago after two decades in Kansas City, packs complexities into her dishes, a tight listing arranged by vegetable, land and sea. Almost as gratifying as the sweet potato, the maitake mushroom ($12) is an umami-packed bundle of flavor accentuated by a pool of leek broth—its only flaw was being small enough a dish to leave us wanting more. To Gold’s surprise, the Parker House rolls (coupled with Publican Quality Bread) have proven to be a runaway success. Along with the breads ($5), Tied House offers a rotating selection of spreads, which included rich bone marrow butter ($6) and a lightly sweet green tomato marmalade ($4) during a recent visit.
Progressing down the menu leads to heartier dishes, although none are so massive they would leave a diner stuffed. The mackerel ($22) is encased in beeswax and dry-aged for a lovely concentration of flavor and served with charred leeks, yellow beets and horseradish. The short rib ($25), which roasts overnight in an old-fashioned veal stock (later spun into the sauce), is supremely tender and worth savoring.
Tied House is, by design, a versatile animal with more to offer than the straightforward three-course dinner. Sip on a few drinks at the gorgeous marble bar, where cocktails come numbered One to Six. Surprisingly, we even enjoyed the tequila-based, Malört-imbued Three ($12), as notes of blood orange, lime and ginger beer tame the bitter liqueur. For the less daring, the Five’s combination of Yuu Baal mezcal and Letherbee gin plays well with sherry and Luxardo Bitter Bianco ($14), while classic Old Fashioneds and Boulevardiers (both $12) are on the menu along with “sessionable” cocktails like the light and lemony Amaro Cooler ($11).
Staying true to Schubas’ history as a Schlitz-tied house, the brewery’s lager ($5) tops the list of drafts, which also sports a nice range of local brews and large-format packaged beers like the Band of Bohemia Big Banana Wheat ale (500 ml for $20). Natural wine lovers will be pleased to find a selection of organic-minded pours, including the bright, refreshing Day Wines Vin de Days Rouge pinot noir ($54 per bottle).
As easy as it is to enjoy an adults-only night at Tied House, the restaurant has taken extra effort to attract families. Children’s menus for both dinner and the recently added brunch are approachable, with $7 dinner entrees like spaghetti and meatballs or fish and chips. For dessert, kids can gobble up birthday cake ice cream ($5 for two scoops) or a whoopie pie sandwich ($6), while adults have a sweet selection of their own to choose from. The clean, light wedding cake ($9) comes deconstructed, as airy angel food cake rests on a lovely smear of frosting, and dried rose petals add a fun jolt of flavor. The chocolate mousse ($10) avoids being overly sweet, with accents of brown butter and cocoa nibs—an ace in the hole for lovers of dark chocolate.
Twenty years ago, Tied House would have stuck out in the somewhat grungier Lakeview, but now it perfectly mirrors the neighborhood it calls home, offering unassuming elegance, a convivial atmosphere, and a chef who won’t be tied down.
3157 N. Southport Ave.
Mon.-Thu., 4:30-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 4:30pm-midnight; Sun., 4:30-9:30pm
Brunch Sat.-Sun., 10am-2:30pm
Plates, $10-$38; desserts, $4-$10; cocktails, $11-$14