What did we think about our lunch at Au Cheval in Chicago? Great vibe. Great food. Great drinks. But, most of all, great burger.
We had heard good things about Brendan Sodikoff’s Au Cheval in Chicago and its famous cheeseburger before we entered the stylish, yet nondescript building on Randolph Street. We expected good food based on the buzz. We also expected a diner based on the website as well as the sign on the restaurant’s building. As soon as we walked in, we looked at each other and said “This is no diner. This is a gastropub.”
Gastropubs have been around for decades, though the term just made it to the dictionary a couple years ago. According to Merriam Webster, a gastropub is a pub, bar or tavern that offers meals of high quality. Gastropubs blend gastronomy and pubs, and who wouldn’t like that?
As 2foodtrippers, we’re partial to gastropubs since we love good food and good beer. We have some favorites in our hometown of Philadelphia, like Standard Tap and we often seek out gastropubs on our travels like the Spotted Pig in New York. We’re not food snobs, and we also like diners for their casual vibe and straight-up food.
So what’s the deal with Au Cheval?
Food at Au Cheval in Chicago
The menu at Au Cheval is deceptively simple. Starters. Eggs. Sandwiches. Sides. It seems fairly standard until you dig deeper and see ingredients like foie gras, farm eggs and marrow bones. There was not one item on the menu that sounded bad, and we wanted to order it all, for editorial purposes of course. We stifled the gluttonous urge and just ordered three dishes to share – a green salad, a cheeseburger and the crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy.
Based on advance word, the cheeseburger was a must. The deceptively labeled single comes with two patties, carmelized onions and homemade pickles. We ramped it up to au cheval style by adding bacon and a fried egg to the sandwich.
We’ve eaten many a burger in our 2foodtripping lives, but this may be one of the best ones yet. As in ever. We ate the first few bites with the bacon intact, and then we took off the bacon so that we could eat the thick hardwood smoked slab on its own to better enjoy the meat’s juicy flavor. The bacon was more like tender braised, smoked pork than the fatty, skinny, chewy strips to which we’ve all become accustomed. All said, starting with the two patties of top quality meat, this is one hell of a burger.
The wildcard dish was the crispy potato hash with duck heart gravy. We had no advance recommendation, but this creation sounded so unique that we had to order it. The generous plate of hash browns was smothered with the gamey duck heart gravy and then topped off with an oozing egg. This decadently satisfying dish made us think of meals we’ve eaten in Montreal, another cold-weather city that serves rich yet hearty food born of extreme winter evenings.
Drinks at Au Cheval in Chicago
Au Cheval serves up a mighty fine selection of beverages. Though the cocktails sound innovative and tasty, we were drawn to the 30+ taps on the long zinc bar.
We decided to share a glass of B. Nectar Meadery’s Zombie Killer cider. This is no normal apple cider with the added honey and tart cherry juice. Bubbly and refreshing, the drink was a perfect accompaniment to the meal.
Atmosphere at Au Cheval in Chicago
When we walked into Au Cheval, past the brick exterior and dark glass, we entered a small but lively interior with a long bar, an open kitchen and tables filled with happy eaters. We had to wait about 45 minutes for a table, which is notably shorter than the dinner wait and well worth the time.
The details of the restaurant’s design further elevate the dining experience. Then there’s the music. Eschewing corporate playlists and internet radio, Au Cheval’s eclectic music emanates from a vintage reel to reel tape deck.
Dining at Au Cheval helped us better understand the essence of Chicago food – a cuisine that bridges the gap between sophistication and heartiness. Call it what you will – a diner, a gastropub or a bar that serves great food. We call it terrific.
Au Cheval is located at 800 West Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607, United States.