Bottlefork’s innovative food and drinks are taking River North by storm.
When dreaming up a new restaurant, some chefs are inspired by regional cuisines, while others are inspired by unique ingredients. But when creating Bottlefork, chef Kevin Hickey found inspiration in the giant, 40-foot bar that spans almost the length of the room. “My vision was that the bar and the kitchen are seamless — the bartenders and cooks work together, putting food into the drinks and drinks into the food,” he says. “It evolved from there.”
The restaurant, housed in the former Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ space, marks a new chapter for Hickey — after an 18-year stint with The Four Seasons, he’s teaming up with Rockit Ranch Productions for his first restaurant concept. Those familiar with Hickey’s food will be happy to know that the Bottlefork menu embodies the playfulness he brought to Seasons and Allium, but to help execute the other half of his vision, he tapped Brandon Phillips, formerly of the Drawing Room, as bar manager. “I was able to work really closely with Brandon to create cocktails that went with the food, had elements of the cooking implements that we were using — smokers, grills, dehydrators,” Hickey says. “I wanted to put as much focus on the beverages as I did on the food.”
Here’s what else you’ll find at Bottlefork:
The vibe: Intimate dining room meets bustling kitchen, with a large expanse of banquettes and shelves stacked with plates and glassware. “From the décor and ambiance to music and lighting, we wanted it to be a cocktail party,” Hickey says. “And every cocktail party I ever have, or ever go to, always winds up in the kitchen.”
Must-try dish: Don’t miss the lush Rich Man Po’Boy, a lobster roll/po’ boy combo with foie gras, lobster and fried oysters on thick, buttery bread ($21), or the crisps and egg — potato chips served in a brown bag, topped tableside with a 62-degree poached egg and then shaken ($4).
Slow and steady: “We wanted the food to be very approachable but complex in its preparation,” Hickey says. Take the ham butt steak ($23), for example. “We wet-brine it for six days, we smoke it for seven hours, we chill it down and then slice it. But when someone orders it, we throw it on the grill and it’s done.”
Drink up: The Bill Brasky, named for the audacious “Saturday Night Live” character, packs a serious punch, blending rye, moonshine, bourbon, scotch, vermouth and bitters. It’s served in a large hurricane glass with a giant piece of ice ($35). And in a Brasky-esque move, inside each block of ice, you’ll spy a 1960s vintage playing card boasting a scantily clad woman.
Get smoked: The Smoke of the Day cocktail ($14) uses the kitchen smoker’s leftover fat in a process called fat-washing — infusing the flavors without the texture or meat products. Bartenders blend the liquefied fat with a spirit such as bourbon, let it absorb for a few hours, freeze it so the fat separates and then run the liquid through cheesecloth to strain. The result is a smooth, rich, lightly smoked cocktail. “If any drink sings the concept of Bottlefork, it’s this one,” Phillips says.
441 N. Clark, (312) 955-1900; Bottlefork.com