Tommy Knuckles Tavern & Lounge

Tommy Knuckles Tavern & Lounge in Lincoln Park (Hilary Higgins/RedEy / May 10, 2013)

Mini-review: Tommy Knuckles Tavern & Lounge
433 W. Diversey Parkway 773-248-3230
Rating: !! (out of four): Give it some time

No, Tommy Knuckles isn't a dude. According to owners, the name of this less-than-a-month-old Lincoln Park bar refers to a slang term for someone who is "extremely awesome or certifiably nuts." It's a bold name, and along with the bar's fist logo, it's almost confrontational. But co-owner Tyrrell Tomlin said the bar should be a laid-back place to hang in Lincoln Park, down to the black-and-white portraits on the walls that are meant to add a dose of nostalgia. So, would the bar prove to be awesome, nuts or some mix of the two? I rounded up a couple friends and stopped in during a Blackhawks game to sort it out.

Date-worthy digs: On a strip of Diversey Parkway home to college haunt Duffy's and neighborhood pub Galway Bay, Tommy Knuckles looks like a classier option, even from the street. Three tall, wood-framed windows let in plenty of sunlight, and inside, the grand bar and light-colored exposed brick signals that the former Forno Diablo space has seen a major makeover. The crowd, a mix of late-20s groups and a few post-office couples, seemed suited to the more stylish spot, but a few elements didn't seem to fit. A spray-painted wall with the Tommy Knuckles logo felt out of place amid the dark wood and polished booths, and the servers' camo-print tees would be more at home at a shot-slinging sports bar.

Growing pains behind the bar: Draft, bottled and canned beers are affordable, with a fine smattering of local craft choices in the mix. I didn't get much guidance from the obviously still-in-training servers, who didn't have a clue about many of the options. My server earned points for providing a dish of snack mix for me to munch on while I perused the beer list, but she also should have set down a glass for my can of Revolution Anti-Hero IPA without me needing to ask for it. A handful of signature cocktails ($10) are displayed on a cute hand-chalked menu above the bar, but the bar was out of a key ingredient and couldn't make the drink I most wanted to try.

Kitchen hits and misses: It's clear from the steady stream of flatbreads and mussels coming out of the kitchen that Tommy Knuckles isn't just a wings-and-fries bar. The menu is full of borderline cheesiness (the appetizer section is called Round 1 and the sandwiches are, yes, Knuckle Sandwiches) but it also has restaurant-style options like a salmon salad ($12) and a crab cake with roasted peppers and apples ($12). Impressively, the poached egg and asparagus salad ($7) that we ordered was cooked perfectly, with a runny yolk and non-rubbery veggies. My Royal Goyal lamb burger with curry and mango chutney ($12) was flavorful and worth ordering again, but miscommunication between servers and the kitchen meant my friend's entree didn't arrive until 15 minutes after mine. When it did arrive, we were surprised to see that the Claw ($14) wasn't at all what we expected. Because the dish was listed under the Baked Mac and Pasta section of the menu, I was looking forward to snagging a gooey bite of baked mac 'n' cheese with a golden, cheesy top and big hunks of lobster. Instead, we received a bowl of penne swimming in red sauce with a couple of melted pieces of mozzarella on top and few bits of lobster and mushroom mixed in. More knowledgeable servers might have described the preparation better, but ours were as nervous in explaining the food as they were the beer.

One knock-out dish: The Marsellus Wallace Burger ($11). Named for the mobster character in "Pulp Fiction," this hefty sandwich is a knock-out in more ways than one. If you love a savory-sweet combo, you'll likely enjoy the mash-up of a ground beef patty against a slightly sweet waffle and candied bacon. But come hungry, otherwise you'll struggle to make it through the stack of two buns, beef patty, a fried egg, the waffle square, bacon strips and barbecue mayo.

Bottom line: With its warm, airy interior, Tommy Knuckles shows promise as a casual date spot or game-time hangout. The kitchen clearly can turn out some winners, but I'd wait until they've sorted out all the kinks—and fully trained their staff—to return for a second visit. The bar isn't certifiably nuts, but sadly, it's not extremely awesome yet, either.

Reporters visit bars unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. kbernot@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink