Awash in ampersands: Bangers & Lace and Blokes & Birds | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Awash in ampersands: Bangers & Lace and Blokes & Birds 

The British invasion continues

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Bangers & Lace

Bangers & Lace

Michael Boyd

It's easy to make fun of the recent proliferation of restaurant names with ampersands in them, but it could be useful if only someone would standardize their use. Instead of having to explain that a new place is an organic, local, sustainable, nose-to-tail gastropub, for example, you could just say that it has an ampersand in its name. Those in the know wouldn't need to hear anything else.

Though there's still no governing organization doling out ampersands, the two latest entries—Bangers & Lace and Blokes & Birds—have a lot in common: a British slant, a better-than-average beer selection, and wood paneling everywhere.

Bangers & Lace, a sausage-and-beer joint from the people behind Bar Deville, Nightwood, and Duchamp, evokes a traditional hunting lodge, complete with a deer head on the wall and other stuffed game animals scattered about. The impression is helped along by the hardwood floors and exposed-brick walls. But everything's just a little too new for the old-timey illusion to hold up, and the flat-screen TV across from the fake wood-burning stove and pastoral mural is incongruous (to be fair, I've never seen the two TVs actually on).

It's certainly a classy place, though, with lace curtains on the tall windows and 32 taps topped by beautiful wooden handles. Much has been made of B & L's cicerone, or beer sommelier, Ria Neri, and as long as stuff like Ommegang's Three Philosophers and Left Hand's Widdershins keeps pouring, I'm not inclined to criticize the lineup. Servers are mostly knowledgeable about what's on the menu—if you can get their attention.

The "lace" in B & L refers to the pattern that beer leaves on the inside of an empty glass; "bangers" is of course a British term for sausage. Not surprisingly, the menu focuses on encased meats, and they're top-notch. Chicken and venison sausages, both excellent in their own right, worked well with their myriad toppings (including crushed chips, relish, deviled eggs, and green onions for the chicken, and whiskey apple jam, beets, bacon, smoked pecans, pickled onions, jalapenos, and sour cream on the venison).

The puff pastry encasing the piping hot and slightly spicy hot links was tasty if a little greasy (the problem with the brown paper napkins is that once you've finished wiping your hands on them, it's all too apparent how much oil you're consuming). The brioche coating the corn dog, on the other hand, was flaccid, too delicate for the job at hand. Our hands-down favorite was the breakfast sliders—bangers on English muffins with eggs, creamed spinach, Gruyere, and hollandaise, the cheese and sauce melding beautifully with the links.

A few sides—onion rings, skin-on fries with Taleggio dipping sauce, spiced corn nuts, Bavarian-style pretzels with house-made chocolate-stout mustard—round out the menu, which also offers a couple of salads and a few desserts.

This is essentially bar food, more appropriate for a snack while boozing than a meal. The sausages average $8 and don't come with sides, so the tab can add up quickly.

Blokes & Birds, though it fields a Euro-heavy list of 13 drafts (Piraat, Young's Double Chocolate Stout) and dozens more bottled beers, edges into restaurant territory with a full menu. It matches B & L wood panel for wood panel but avoids the slightly schizophrenic feel. Here is British comfort food, with a nod to the culinary influence of India showing up in the deviled beef with curry, mussels in a mildly spicy vindaloo sauce, and a pork tenderloin with mango chutney. There are also plenty of straightforwardly British dishes, like a shepherd's pie that arrived piping hot and full of good-sized chunks of stout-braised lamb, and a crispy fish-and-chips platter with a choice of dipping sauces. Nearly everything we tried was a solid rendition of a classic, from oatmeal and potato soup to bubble and squeak to minted peas. The only real miss was oddly fishy lobster deviled eggs with tobiko caviar—$12 for three halves, the last of which went untouched.

Generous portions left us unable to touch the desserts on my first visit, but on the second I loved a delicately flavored Earl Grey creme brulee, which went especially well with the complimentary tastes of the house-made bourbon infused with cinnamon, blood oranges, and vanilla—I'd order it again in a heartbeat.    

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