Where do discriminating culinary workers head after they close shop at 10 PM or so on weekends?
One place is “the place” or as it is translated in Poland and many European cities –Lokal.
This Lokal is in a 33 vinyl record adorned spot on North Avenue at the divide between Bucktown and Wicker Park.
Yes, it’s that one with bottomless mimosas and bloody marys during weekend brunches that often has an overflow crowd. Their real busy time though is actually during late nights to 2 AM when one or another DJ plays sets of different themes—from hip hop to soul to jazz or more.
That spinning vinyl plays a part in the Lokal scene is no accident.
Co-owner and chef Arthur Wnorowski’s hip hop band has won Independent Music awards and was the 2008 Metromix Best Band. Arthur is a classically trained pianist who, along with his singer wife and other band members, is planning a new album release “Animate Objects” in the coming months.
That Arthur overflows with creative juices is quite apparent from the changing menu, which he says he changes not by timetable but by mood. When we arrived two new dishes had just been added--- Goat Cheese Risotto and Seared Scallops.
We tasted a sample size of the latter, which like other dishes we tasted was very rich, delicious and filling. Arthur smiles and confides he just likes to roll out dishes and then see what happens.
You wouldn’t call Lokal an Upscale Polish restaurant but there are definite Polish-specific and European in general touches throughout.
First and foremost you find it in the mixology. Arthur jokes that you could call the drink they have on the menu called “Bizon Grass” a Pojito instead of Mojito. The secret ingredient is Zubrowka, a vodka made from grass that Bison have fed and eliminated on, the latter being so annoying to the FDA that at one point they outlawed this delectable drink but gave in when Europeans roared to bring it back. Indeed the Pojito a.k.a. Bizon Grass is much fresher tasting than your freshest mojito, perhaps the secret being the “muddle” of the “muddled mint” ingredient listed on the menu.
Another most tantalizing ingredient that gives a new twist to the Lokal Old Fashioned is the Cherry Nalewka, a liqueur made with floating soaked cherries in the bottle.
Like the mixology the food has touches of Polish and European cuisine that make each dish a standout. The Berkshire Pork Belly starter was a particularly good, with the pickled celery and apple cider gastrique giving it an extra oomph! If you love kale you will especially love this “just right” Goldilocks degree of wilting.
The Pork Belly starter was particularly interesting to me, as I knew that if left to my own devices I would have never ordered this dish.
That brings up my main tip and word to the wise about Lokal--- ask the waitstaff of Lokal to do the ordering for you or better yet come with a large crowd so you can assemble your own tasting menu. It’s ALL delicious and you will likely find as we did that the dishes that most compel your return are not the ones you’d think.
The special that night, which many in the restaurant were enjoying, was a large plate of mussels served with truffle fries. This was on the blackboard outside and only cost $10 – with a portion of ample size for a couple to split and call a light meal if coupled with one of Lokal’s fantastic drinks such as the Lokal Mule, which sparkled with ginger beer amidst other ingredients.
Now that winter is coming you can especially look to Lokal’s menu items that verge on comfort food quality.
The Potato Pierogi was scrumptious and very rich—with ample scallion cream, leeks and bacon topping. Cheese is a special every Thursday ($5 cheese, $5 wine) – here too note that starter portions are sufficient to be small plate meals for many.
The “market special” Prairie Pork Tenderloin, like the pork belly, had meat that one was able to cut with a fork. In addition to the Eastern European touch of a potato pancake the WOW! in this dish was the apple-radish salad. Here too the dish was above all very rich, largely due to the irresistible mushroom cream sauce on the side.
For a gourmet find it’s important to underline that this is not a budget buster restaurant. There are specials every day, with the “bottomless brunch” probably being the most popular. The $9 price for unusual and high caliber vodka flight is also remarkable.
Second warning: We didn’t have room for dessert. Then again, we didn’t go home feeling lacking in any way.
1904 West North Avenue, Chicago
DINNER • Tue - Th • 6pm – 10pm • Fri - Sat • 6pm – 11pm
BRUNCH • Frid • 11am - 3:30pm • Sat - Sun • 9am – 3:30pm
LATE NIGHT • Tue - Fri • 11pm - 2am • Sat 11pm - 3am
Fall brunch hours: Friday: 11am – 3:30pm / Saturday – Sunday: 9am – 3:30pm
Photo of Mule,brunch and Bizon Grass courtesy of Lokal.
All other photos Peter Kachergis.