Canada has offered many interesting exports to this country over the years, ranging from poutine to hockey to Celine Dion and Justin Bieber. ( I'll let you be the judge of how welcome each is. )
However, after visiting Earls Kitchen + Bar ( 1538 N. Clybourn Ave.; earls.ca/locations/lincoln-park ) recently, I'm convinced that this eatery chain is one of the more welcome imports from our neighbors to the north. ( FYI: Father and son Leroy Earl "Bus" Fuller and Stanley Earl Fuller lending their middle namesstarted the business in the early '80s. )
Each Earls ( and there are 66 in Canada and the United States! ) is tailored for its host cityand the Lincoln Park site is no exception. Chicago flourishes include menu items such as the Chicken, Brie + Fig Sandwich and Leroy's Crispy Ribs. However, the touches are not just limited to culinary offerings, as there are works of art such as an item that honors blues musician Muddy Waters; an installation from a local Banksy-esque artist named FRESH; and a piece on one wall of the lounge that is a stunning take on the local music scene, complete with trumpets emerging from the wall that are arranged to produce a visual sound wave.
Speaking of the lounge, it's just one component of an expansive, airy restaurant that General Manager Brad Bilick described as "casual premium" at a recent media event this writer attended. ( When he asked what I thought of the space, my first answer was "There's a lot of it." ) There are a three-season patio, a sports bar area with multiple screens and what I call the more traditional dining area that offers a view into the prep kitchen, which Chef Chris Memme oversees.
And mentioning the kitchen ( which is meticulously organized, by the way ) brings us to the food, which both Memme and Bilick described as a "global skillet." ( Bilick pointed out that everything is made in-house at Earls. ) The burgers have earned universal raves ( and I plan on trying those in the future ), but the offerings I sampled were pretty impressive as well. The Thai tomato coconut soup had crispy chickpeas for added texture, while the bibimbap was a solid dish. My faves had to be the fall-off-the-bone ribs and the chimichurri skirt steak ( served with baby potatoes and pan-roasted tomatoes ). The desserts are also pretty cool, with offerings such as sticky toffee chocolate pudding and coconut cake.
By the way, I urge you to partake of the intriguing drink selection at Earls. There are items that range from craft sodas to unique cocktailsand I loved the Marilyn Monroe, a tasty melange of Skyy vodka, passionfruit puree, vanilla and prosecco. Then, there's the CaesarEarls' take on the Bloody Mary, complete with vodka, Clamato and spices.
The only potential snag for some may be the price points ( e.g., $15 burgers ). Answering that concern, Bilick emailed, " Earls believes in using only the best, consciously sourced ingredients. Sustainable seafood, approved by Oceanwise and the Marine Stewardship Association; fresh antibiotic free chicken and cage-free eggs, and 100-percent all-natural Certified Humane™ beef for our burgers and steaks. We even make our own cheese slices for our burger.
"Our food is cooked fresh and from scratch, there's no commissary kitchen as many other traditional chains have. We strongly believe in practicing conscious-sourcing and providing only quality ingredients for our customers, which can result in increased prices. We think our guests will both taste and appreciate the difference and understand that it can cost a bit more to eat consciously."
Earls is a very welcome addition to Chicagoeven if, for some, visiting may be more of a special occasion than an everyday thing. Thanks, Canada!
Note: Earls offers a wine special on Thursdays, with half off all wines.