Before moving to Chicago, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh began their culinary careers in New York as a way to support themselves while they looked for work as actors. It wasn’t their acting that brought the duo to stardom, however. Against odds of 10,000 to 1, they sent a tape into the Food Network and, to their surprise, became the first-ever winners of the Next Food Network Star contest, landing their own show on the cable channel. That success enabled them to grow their catering business’s small café into a full-fledged restaurant serving up brunch, lunch, and dinner.
"Our focus is on what we love, which is mid-century food and the American culture of dining, and that kind of collective memory we have . . . taking those recipes and updating them for a modern palate," Steve says. For example, they top sweet potatoes with black-thyme-pepper marshmallows and create corn dogs with rabbit sausage in red-velvet butter. Steve says that they love creating conversation at their tables, especially as guests reminisce about memories evoked by dishes such as tuna noodle casserole and their Hearty mac ‘n’ cheese. "For Dan and I, that's a major part of the dining experience," he says. "If we can get their heads moving as well as their mouths, we feel pretty successful." Their efforts have paid off. "The duo is making magic by keeping it simple," said Phil Vettel in a review on WGN. "There's at least one wow ingredient on every plate. A simple burger is brightened with triple-cream cambozola cheese, sugar-cured bacon, and garlic aioli. Bacon-wrapped shrimp arrives on a pile of wonderful white cheddar grits . . . It's fun and delicious."
Dan heads the kitchen, while Steve forges many of the signature cocktails, aiming to discourage the intimidation that often surrounds craft cocktails. He and Dan even authored a book whose 200+ drink recipes include every cocktail made at Hearty, proving that everyone can make the drinks at home. Steve's even been known to chat up tables in hopes of introducing them to a new drink. "It's amazing, the amount of people who don't think they drink gin—so I have to force them," Steve says. "Once you have a gin that is different than that gin that you drank in the 1980s that was so harsh and juniper-heavy, once you're having one of these new American gins along with just simple fresh citrus and the other spirits… you understand what the fuss is about." He's also curated an exclusively American wine list with bottles from unexpected sources—including Dr. Frank's Salmon Run rkatsiteli from the Finger Lakes in New York, which he calls "floral and highly acidic . . . Everybody loves it."
For every color in Roscoe’s Tavern & Café rainbow-striped logo, there’s a reason to visit the multi-faceted bar. During warmer months, a quaint sidewalk café sits outside the entryway. The interior is spacious enough to accommodate pool tables, a dance floor, live-band karaoke, and a regular schedule of drag shows and other events. Of course, the real draw is the bar’s well program—more accurately called a “drink well” program, as it promises higher-quality well vodka, whiskey, rum, gin, and tequila. It’s helped Roscoe’s earn a spot on Out magazine’s list of “The 50 Greatest Gay Bars in the World.”
With 25-year-old roots in Boystown—the wooden Indian in the doorway is a neighborhood mainstay—the staff at Roscoe’s has a vested interest in helping the surrounding community to thrive. They work with local businesses and charities, including Dance for Life Chicago, a performance-based non-profit that boosts awareness and raises funds for HIV and AIDS care, education, and prevention. The staff also helps patrons register to vote and join neighborhood associations so that they can make their voices heard without having to train a flock of really loud parrots.
Groupon Celebrates Pride Month
Over the last 50 years, the gay-rights movement in America has overcome tremendous obstacles to become a powerful voice for inclusion and diversity. Even as it has grown, the movement—like Groupon—is local at heart, and we applaud the commitment to real change that improves everyday lives.
At Groupon, we are happy to add our voices to those celebrating PRIDE, their achievements as a social movement and a continued march to equality for the LGBT community. Plus, we love a chance to dig that rainbow wig out of storage.
This month—and throughout the year—we salute our merchants and customers who support PRIDE and all efforts that promote dignity, respect, and equal opportunity. We're highlighting these merchants' deals with a special badge to show Groupon's pride in working with people who share our values.
One of the few downtown bars to survive the Great Chicago Fire, the Green Door Tavern has also spent time as a grocery store and Italian restaurant. Before heading inside, take a peek from across the street. You might be surprised to notice that the bar’s wooden frame leans visibly to the right.
Near Addison and the Kennedy Expressway sits an unexpected slice of Bavaria: Mirabell Restaurant & Lounge. Taking in the German flags, live accordian music, and dirndl-clad servers, it's not difficult to sit back and imagine the twin towers of Munich's Frauenkirche looming just outside the doorway. But it's the food and drink, more than anything, that firmly roots this Irving Park cornerstone within the German beerhall tradition. A hefty menu of central European staples includes the “best damn Wiener schnitzel in town,” according to the Sun-Times, as well as what the Chicago Reader calls, “some of the city's best goulash.” And their extensive beer selection is flush with iconic German brews such as BBK, Juilius Echter Weiss Beer, and Krombacher Black. The heartiness of Mirabell's fare is offset by an airy, skylighted dining room. Banners and plants hang from the main space's lofted ceiling, casting dappled shadows over a collection of ornate steins, Hummel figurines, and crystal pieces. During warmer months, a leafy beer garden lets drinkers supplement beers with a little sunshine, which is allowed by German beer purity laws as long as the sun is not frowning.
Brehon Pub's original tin ceilings have hovered above the establishment since the historical building's construction shortly after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Throughout the century-long parade of patrons that has followed, the pub has had its share of brushes with fame—movie cameras have repeatedly been attracted to the saloon's classic décor, and crooked city inspectors were brought to justice in the bar in 1977 during a nationally reported sting set up by the Chicago Sun-Times. More recently, dignified clientele such as Barack Obama and John Kerry have perched themselves upon the original Brunswick bar. In 1980, the Burke brothers hung their family's coat of arms above the doors of the historical site and began dishing out classic Irish fare, including shepherd's pie and Guinness stew. Today, bartenders pull more than 15 domestic and foreign draft beers from the taps or slide 1 of 41 bottled beers toward thirsty customers. Diners seated at the pub's long cocktail tables can toast to the pictures of Irish writers mounted on the wall, gaze at an authentic Irish World Cup jersey, or whisper Yeats poems into the breeze from the seats of the sidewalk cafe.
A comprehensive guide to restaurants, bars and more.