Typically, when I pass by Andersonville's adorable shared space restaurant that is Ombra and Acre, I can't resist the Italian small plates at Ombra ( those polenta fries! ). But, a recent irresistible craving for oysters finally got me through the door at Acre, and it was quite the pleasant surprise.
Several trusted Andersonville sources ( my friends ) had reported that Acre's food was ho-hum, which is partly why I'd avoided the place for so long. They could not have been more wrong.
The oyster bar alone is reason enough to make regular visits to Acre. You can get as many of the slippery little delicacies as you can eat for a buck each every night at 5-7 p.m., and again from 9 p.m. to midnight. They've always got a nice selection of oysters from different parts of the world, and every one I've tasted has been remarkably fresh. I like to load mine up with plenty of horseradish lots of fresh lemon juice. High-quality oysters at low prices are quite the treat in our landlocked city. Be sure to order a glass of bubbly to complete the experience. The $10 cava does the trick.
The mussels are also worth a try. They come in a tangy white wine sauce and are served with a generous slice of buttery toasted bread. The jumbo shrimp are indeed jumbosome of the biggest I've seen, in factand certainly worth the $3 they cost.
The seafood starters at Acre are so good that they kind of get you in the mood for, well, more seafood. I actually wish the rest of the menu were a little heavier on fish. Instead, there is a nice selection of inventive takes on American classics made with really high-quality ingredients like locally sourced meats and in-season produce. Acre actually lists on its website the vendors and farms that supply its food. In a time when "farm-to-table" has essentially been reduced to a meaningless catchphrase, I find that pretty impressive. What's more, you can taste the quality in the food. It tastes fresh and not a bit mass produced.
The cheese curds are a must-order. They are some of the best I've eaten outside of the Minnesota State Fair. They've made with mild white cheddar, battered lightly and fried to a sizzling golden brown. They're not over-battered or overfriedtwo of the fastest ways to ruin a good curd.
For something slightly less decadent, I highly recommend the butternut squash tart. It's almost like a quiche, but with savory butternut squash where the egg would be. It's studded with bits of pungent blue cheese and scallions. Toasted walnuts and fried sage leaves are sprinkled on top, and both add a rich and warm flavor that is perfect for winter.
I was not a fan of the chicken tinga tacos. The juicy shredded white meat tastes like it comes from a high-quality chicken. And although the meat is tossed in a chipotle sauce, the tacos just don't have enough flavor. They need a little more heat and perhaps more ample scoops of cheese and sour cream. Frankly, I think they should ditch the chicken altogether and instead serve a good fish taco.
You can easily make a meal out of shellfish and small plates at Acre, but there are a handful of entrÃ©es for heartier appetites. The pork burger does not disappoint. Instead of beef patties, it's made with two succulent slabs of ground pork. I actually think one patty would be sufficient, but you're not ordering a pork burger because you want to watch your girlish figure. Of course, there's no better topping for a pork burger than bacon, and this one's got it. The savory crunch of the bacon is balanced by a slightly sweet jam and gooey melted Chihuahua cheese. Instead of lettuce, the pork burger is upgraded with arugula, for a bit of refreshing greenery on an otherwise totally decadent treat.
I'm completely sold on Acre, and I look forward to eating my way through the menualways between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m. of course, so I can get my hands on those $1 oysters.
Acre is located at 5308 N. Clark St.; call 773-334-7600 or visit www.acrerestaurant.com .
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