The popular Loop spot Sweetwater Tavern & Grillewhich specializes in contemporary U.S. cuisine, and which is part of the Bottleneck Management stable of restaurantshas a lot going for it.
First, there are the views of the street (and passersby) and well as of the TV screensif you're a sports fan (and, fortunately for me, I am). Then there's the very friendly staffembodied by our server, who greeted us with "Awesome, possum," and later talked about everything from growing up in Indiana to getting her upcoming flight upgraded to first-class for only $10. (Note to self: Check options for my next flight on United Airlines.)
However, all the friendliness and views in the world won't help a restaurant if the food isn't compelling in some way (although, for some, drinks may be enough).
As for Sweetwater's cuisine, it's certainly good enough to bring you back for a second visit.
The one caveat I would have about the food here, though, is that the chef certainly likes spice. For example, a few of the choices include bang bang shrimp (which is served with sriracha), kung pao cauliflower (with chiles de arbol and chili oil) and Cajun linguine (which comes with sriracha cream). By the way, this list certainly wouldn't be complete without the Scorpion burger, which comes with habanero Pepper Jack cheese, jalapenos, five-pepper jam and scorpion pepper aiolifor the truly brave.
Those items became my collective cue to try something that wouldn't set my tongue on fire. So I went with the appetizer of pan-seared braised pork belly with cheddar grits, Brussels sprouts, maple stout demi-glace and microgreenswhich turned out to be absolutely delightful. My entree was the Atlantic salmon with sauteed broccolini and horseradish potato puree. I know, I know: Horseradish can be spicy as well, but the sauce on the broccolini turned out to be the spice bomb, catching me off-guard. The potatoes turned out to be delicious, but the salmon was slightly dry. It was a case of the supporting players overshadowing the featured performer, albeit for different reasons.
My dining companion thoroughly enjoyed his (spicier) dishes, which consisted of the buffalo rolls (app) and Nashville hot-chicken wraps (entree).
However, Sweetwater offers a lot more dishes than those just described. Some of the other appetizers include cheese curds with smoked tomato coulis; popcorn chicken; Impossible quesadilla; loaded tots (with braised short rib, caramelized onions, au jus, pepper jack cheese sauce and Parmesan cheese; and crab fondue.
There's also a nice selection of entree salads, in varieties such as Cobb, ahi tuna and, yes, Nashville hot chicken. Burger offerings besides the Scorpion include bacon cheddar, Impossible and the sunny-side-up (with a fried egg); while the taco platter, Chilean sea bass and pork chop are some of the other main dishes.
And the desserts are like those you'd expect that similar spots. I went with the peanut butter Snickers piewhich (pleasantly) surprised me with its elegant presentation. However, if that's not your thing, you can try the S'mores dip or the baked cookie dough.
Drinks are enticing, for sure. Cocktails include the Golden Honey Margarita (with Tito's Handmade Vodka, St. Germain, sparkling wine, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup Don Julio Blanco, honey syrup, fresh orange juice and lemon juice); white sangria; and the Flapjack Old Fashioned (with Devil's River Rye Whiskey, butterscotch schnapps, candied maple syrup, bacon and orange bitters). There are also impressive wine and beer lists to peruse.
My overall rating for Sweetwater? It's awesome, possum! Just navigate those spicy dishes with care.
See www.sweetwatertavernandgrille.com .
Note: This visit was arranged.