Lincoln Park needs another bar and grill like restaurant diners need more calories, right? That’s what I thought when I walked through the angled entrance of Gaslight Bar & Grille, steps from the campus of DePaul University. I’m happy to report that my presupposition was wrong: Chicagoans could use more hangouts like Gaslight, and in fact they already exist. Gaslight has several siblings — Benchmark, Brownstone, Crossing, Kirkwood, Schoolyard, Sidebar and WestEnd — all part of the Four Corners Tavern Group. And if the food at Gaslight is representative, they are all worth a visit. Like any bar and grill, Gaslight offers the expected array of drinks, but it’s what’s happening in the kitchen that sets it apart.
Not that beverages are neglected. Choose from more than a dozen domestic and imported/craft beers on tap or nearly four dozen available by the bottle, including rarities like Hoegaarden White and Delirium Tremens. The wine list is shorter but covers all the bases, offering wines from every category by the glass or bottle; on Tuesdays, glasses of wine are only $5. Gaslight also offers wine on tap, an eco-friendly and oxidation-free way to preserve the bouquets of its $7 Gotham Project 2010 Sauvignon Blanc or Gotham Project Pinot Noir 2010.
I ordered an $8 glass of a pleasant Argentine Casa del Campo Malbec, a perfect accompaniment to Lollipop Chops with a side of chimichurri sauce. The mini lamb chops, served over French fries, are available in three sizes — 2 for $8, 4 for $14, or 6 for $18 — as a main course or an appetizer. But the standout appetizer is an order of two Lobster Corndogs for $10, perfect for sharing and more than satisfying as a meal for one. Here’s where Gaslight puts its upscale twist on standard bar food, maximum taste at a bargain price. The chef packs a generous amount of lobster and shrimp into the usual corndog shape and dips the “dog” into a cornmeal beer batter for deep-frying, but the dish is so light and greaseless that it seems never to have touched the oil.
Other appetizers include the usual suspects — mini sliders, chicken wings, quesadillas — as well as Hot Soft Pretzels ($3 each). I ordered a daily special of a grilled artichoke served with caper mayonnaise and enjoyed its hint of smoke. Other starters include a half dozen salads and soups.
But save room for the filling main courses, grouped around five house specialties and eight hearty sandwiches. The specialties include the aforementioned lamp chops, Prince Edward Island Beer Mussels, Smoked Cheddar Mac ’n Cheese, Crispy Tuna Tacos and Chicken Kabobs. I sampled the mac ’n cheese — macaroni in a smoked cheddar sauce under a dusting of panko ($8) — and found it hard to resist. Over the winter Gaslight experimented with offering flights of mac ’n cheese, the ultimate cold-weather comfort food. I also tasted the tuna tacos: seared sashimi grade tuna with roasted corn and avocado slaw with wasabi lime crema and added crunch from chili spiced pepitas ($12). The dish is an interesting blend of east and west, mixing up sashimi and wasabi with corn and pepitas, the best of both worlds.
I was glad that my companion ordered the Turkey Burger ($9), a popular item, so that I could sneak a bite of that too. Stuffed with Brie and seasoned with shallot, apple and thyme, the burger was moist and full of flavor. Served with arugula, herb mayo and oven dried tomatoes on a tasty bun, the tuna burger is a meal in itself, but sandwiches also come with a choice of Tater Tots or four kinds of French fries and can be upgraded for $1 with a fried egg, mushrooms, grilled onions or melted cheese. Other sandwich choices include Baja Fish Tacos ($10) and a Cuban ($10).
Unless you have the appetite of an Olympic athlete or are sharing, you probably won’t have room for the sole dessert on Gaslight’s menu, The Skillet Cookie ($8), tempting as it sounds: hot chocolate chip cookie with two layers of French caramel, Swiss chocolate and vanilla-bean ice cream.
Service is friendly and efficient, and although the noise level in the main room is as to be expected, a seating area toward the back allows for conversation, and families are welcomed. An unexpected bonus was free street parking within steps of the restaurant, which is an easy walk from the Fullerton el stop.
The Four Corners Tavern Group has come up with several clever tie-ins, linking each of its properties to a different social group: Gaslight calls itself “Chicago’s official hangout for Ohio State alumni,” while the others pitch themselves to alumni of Illinois, Texas, Kansas, Butler and Marquette as well as to fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. So go, cheer on your team and eat a newfangled corndog.
Gaslight Bar & Grille
2426 N. Racine (one block north of Fullerton), Chicago
Photos: Leanne Star