It’s official: Hyde Park is hip. In just a few short years, this South Side enclave has become a major hot spot for dining, arts, and entertainment in Chicago. The Promontory is the real pièce de résistance, bringing a cool, rustic scene to a once sleepy block of South Lake Park Avenue West. Remember the way you imagined your dad’s Elks Lodge when you were a kid? It’s like that, but with some serious style mixed in. So throw on something casual, grab a couple of friends, and come commune with nature by the open hearth.
The aroma of wood smoke permeates the expansive dining room, and it’s easy to see why. Take a look in the open kitchen, where the staff is cooking big hunks of meat and fresh vegetables over what is essentially a massive, room-sized brick oven. Looking beyond, you’ll notice gigantic floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the large dining room, making indoor diners feel as though they’re outside. When the weather’s nice, there’s also the option of the open-air patio. Take a table under the stars with your friends and relax with a round of Hearth Manhattans. It’s the house favorite, and its cherry bark vanilla bitters and hearth-charred vermouth give a sweetly smoky twist to this bourbon classic.
The vermouth isn’t the only hearth-charred item in the place. They put that impressive oven to work on all kinds of delicious foods, from “quail on a string” that’s actually strung up and suspended over the searing-hot wood coals, to an amazing selection of hearth-roasted vegetables that includes braised heart of palm and a delightfully smokey cashew puree.
As you peruse the menu, you’re intrigued by the unique categories, especially “Historic.” At the top of the list is the curiously-named Kentucky Burgoo. What’s a burgoo? A burgoo is a traditionally social dish. Back in the day, a community would come together, and folks would contribute whatever veggies and meat (sometimes squirrel or possum) they could to make something hot, tasty, and nourishing for everyone to eat. Order one at the Promontory and you’ll get a savory, meaty stew with perfectly marbled pork collar, quail, and house-made rabbit sausage.
After dinner, check out the upstairs — a performance space decorated with vintage wallpaper and antique fixtures lovingly salvaged from the just-razed Picadilly Theater. You and your friends might just catch Brokeback setting up. These purveyors of atmospheric, genre-bending instrumental music have been knocking the socks off Chicago audiophiles since the late ’90s. If kooky country is more your speed, professional wackadoo Kinky Friedman is another regular.
At the end of a night hanging out at the Promontory, full of music, craft cocktails, and flame-cooked food, you’ll find yourselves eager to come out to Hyde Park more often. This place really is better than it’s ever been.