July 28, 2011
Owen & Engine is a 10-month-old gastropub with charming British decor, a beer list bulging with British-style ales and a menu that includes dishes such as bangers and mash and hairy taddie. But chef de cuisine Charles Burkhardt would rather not call the place a British pub, thank you.
"It's definitely got British inspiration," Burkhardt says, "but I wouldn't call the food British. To me, the term gastropub just means using the freshest ingredients I can find and preparing them very simply."
And so the menu boasts a whole grilled trout, which, accompanied with frisee and haricots verts in a sherry vinaigrette and brown-butter sauce, is a dish one might expect to find on the other end of the Chunnel. There's also a pan-roasted chicken with pattypan squash and a delectable pan jus, which would be welcome in any bistro or American restaurant.
But what makes Owen & Engine worth a trip to its uncharming, edge-of-Logan-Square location is the craft that Burkhardt applies to everything that emerges from his kitchen.
The charcuterie platter, for instance, is one of O&E's absolute must-order dishes. Served on what appears to be a circle of tree trunk, the varying selection typically offers slices of intense, pistachio-studded lamb-liver pate, an even better lamb sausage, thick and juicy Polish sausage and the sinful, spreadable rillettes that Burkhardt accurately terms "pork butter."
And except for the occasional slice of imported prosciutto, all the meats are made on the premises, as are the bread-and-butter pickles, the stout-infused beer mustard and the brown bread and lavash that accompany them.
Similar attention is paid to the fish and chips, which is perhaps the best or second-best fish and chips in the city (I give a slight edge to The Gage's version). Burkhardt has his haddock flown in daily, and the pristine character of the fish shines through its golden, crispy batter crust. Along for the ride is a contemporary turn on mushy peas, here a smooth puree of peas and creme fraiche inlaid with chopped whole peas.
Then there is the hairy taddie, which sounds like the name of a first-year Hogwarts student but is actually a Brit brandade of salted cod cakes (haddock, specifically) seasoned with tarragon and chervil and displayed against a backdrop of red pepper and sweet-corn salsa. They resemble crab cakes so closely that the inattentive diner will be surprised by that first bite.
Bangers and mash feature house-made sausages and mashed Yukon golds with a sturdy onion gravy. Bubble and squeak, traditionally a rescued-leftovers dish of mashed potatoes and root vegetables, is made fresh here and oh, what a difference.
Elsewhere you'll find gnocchi, a bit on the firm side but agreeable, especially with soft dabs of goat cheese providing contrast; and a novel surf-and-turf pairing of seared scallops, separated by a peas-and-mushrooms ragout, alongside a towering cube of pork belly — a sort of culinary version of Jack Spratt and his wife.
There's also a high-quality burger on the menu (heavenly with English cheddar on a baked-in-house potato bun) and an even better sirloin sandwich with horseradish creme fraiche and rocket greens on a grilled baguette. And on a previous visit I had a very flaky meat pie (think Cornish pasty) stuffed with rabbit. All of these, plus the tasty chicken wings jazzed up with espelette peppers, are also on the pub menu, which is available after 10 p.m.
Crystal Chiang adds solid desserts to the mix, among them a delicious frozen Black and Tan souffle, with a chocolate spongecake base, crisped-rice crown and espresso syrup all around; the sour tang from the beer component sets this dessert off just right. I loved the rhubarb crisp, whose season has sadly passed; that dessert has been replaced by Eton mess (yep, that's the name), a British layered confection of cooked berries, honey meringue and spiced whipped cream.
Beer is a huge part of the experience, no surprise there, and thankfully the servers can discuss the subject intelligently, or defer to O&E's in-house cicerone. Included in the lengthy list of suds are four cask-style beers, which are held at cellar temperature (about 55 degrees), contain no additional carbonation (natural fermentation adds some) and is hand-pumped to your glass (the "engine" part of the pub's name).
It's an acquired taste, no doubt, but I find that the reduced carbonation and warmer temperature makes the beer particularly food friendly. Try the cask-style Dragon's Milk (an American stout from Michigan) with that pork belly-scallops combo before you contradict me.
Watch Phil Vettel's reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9's "News at Nine," CLTV and at wgntv.com/vettel.
Owen & Engine
2700 N. Western Ave., 773-235-2930
Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Saturday, brunch Sunday
Entree prices: $14-$21
Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V
Noise: Conversation- friendly
Other: Pub menu served until 1 a.m. (midnight Sunday)
Four Stars: Outstanding
Three Stars: Excellent
Two Stars: Very good
One Star: Good
No stars: Unsatisfactory
Reviews are based on no fewer than two visits. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.
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