by Alexandra Appino-Tabone
If you know anything about Chicago’s legacy in haute cuisine, then you’ve heard of Alinea, Avec, Spiaggia, and Tru. But for a spontaneous (or planned) outing in the windy city, The Dearborn--serving dishes like tender dry aged duck breast alongside bespoke cocktails (try the Hamiltini)--is a hidden gem where traditional pub fare gets a serious upgrade.
Connected to the Block 37 Shops, The Dearborn occupies the corner of Randolph and Dearborn in the heart of Chicago’s theater district, though its curb appeal is unassuming. Once inside, however, high ceilings and sophisticated décor come off as both elegant and inviting. With a chic neutral color scheme accented by white tile walls and dark wood trim, the restaurant combines the comfort of a neighborhood tavern with the refinement of a cocktail lounge—perfect for happy hour. Tables in the back room come equipped with quilted leather chairs and old-fashioned desk lamps, while blown-up images of the city in the early days add a nostalgic touch to the walls.
The Dearborn is the newest addition to the empire of sister act restaurateurs Clodagh and Amy Lawless, preceded by popular gastropub The Gage and Italian eatery Acanto. The Dearborn describes itself as an “urban American tavern,” and plates like Midwest fried chicken, fresh oysters, fish and chips, and a signature burger drive that aspect home. But classic European influences abound in dishes like confit Spanish octopus, classic Lyonnaise salad, dry aged duck breast (tender on the inside with a crackling crust), and beef oxtails with heirloom cornmeal polenta and house made chorizo. The Hamiltini (after the hit musical) is a mixture of Cruzan rum, Lustau East India sherry, demerara syrup, lemon, and peychaud’s bitters, served up. The wine list isn’t bad either, with plenty of options by the glass.
The Dearborn tries just hard enough—balancing its urban hipness with a friendly, casual warmth. Their patient and amiable staff will answer your questions in detail (ask them where they get those giant ice cubes). Versatile enough for a chic night out or a cozy family dinner, The Dearborn is a place you can come back to, and maybe even call home.
Alexandra Appino-Tabone holds an MFA in Poetry from The New School. She is a staff writer at Joonbug.com and author of the blog The Discouraged Feminist. Her writing has appeared in News Cult and McGill University's Le Délit.