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Three Aces

Photo: Martha Williams
Three Aces
University Village/UIC
OpenTable

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The owners of Three Aces can protest all they want, and they do—they’ll freely admit that food was never meant to be the primary focus of Three Aces. They wanted drinkers, people who would stick around for a while with multiple rounds of beers. That’s why the menu here has no categories like “appetizers” or “entrees,” a server explained to me—it’s meant to remain on the table all night, a list of snacks you can pick from whenever the beer makes you hungry.

Nice idea. But with Troost (the chef last seen at Fianco) rolling fresh pasta and frying pig ears in the kitchen, it’s hard not to pay attention.

And that creates a bit of tension. Because true to the owners’ vision, there’s nothing about this space that says restaurant. It’s all black leather booths and light fixtures salvaged from prisons. The music is loud. The servers have a intimate familiarity with Manic Panic. Altogether, the place has a vaguely Hot Topic feel. And that’s not a problem, per se. It just doesn’t feel like the right environment for two slices of porchetta, cooked spot-on and plated with punchy apple mostarda.

Troost’s food is the kind that would feel more at home in a proper restaurant: Arancini arrive on a rich oxtail ragu and crack open to reveal melted fontina; pappardelle is tossed with a bolognese and a pungent handful of fresh mint. If this isn’t white-tablecloth fare, it is at least appropriate for a communal-table, Italian gastropub setting. Likewise, it calls for carafes of wine, not beers from Aces’ thoughtful all-domestic beer list. It’s a testament to the food that the experience isn’t ruined by the atmosphere—it’s merely dampened, clouded by thoughts about what the night could be with a few tweaks. Even the pizza—pizza, a beer’s best friend—has trouble fitting in. The pies come in variations such as a rich egg-parmesan-ricotta-pancetta and a fiery chicken thigh-garlic-squash-thyme. Any drink would have a hard time taking precedence in its presence.

But the only time the disparity between room and food really becomes irksome is when Troost fumbles. The autumnal panzanella salad tasted cobbled-together, and the cubes of bread—arguably panzanella’s best asset—were stale enough to chip a tooth. And the pici, another housemade pasta, was al dente enough to be a challenge to chew. Beef heart spiedini (basically skewers) had a massive flavor that would turn any offal skeptic into a believer, but the piadino (flatbread) it arrived with seemed arbitrary—too crisp to be used like pita, or in any other way, really. When you hit misfires like this, it’s easy to think: Why am I here? Luckily, most of the time the answer to that question is right in front of you.

Venue name: Three Aces
Address: 1321 W Taylor St
Chicago

Cross street: at Ada St
Venue phone: 312-243-1577
Website: http://threeaceschicago.com
Opening hours: Mon–Fri 4pm–2am; Sat 11:30am–3am; Sun 11:30am–2am
Transport: El stop: Blue to Racine. Bus:7,9,12,60.
Price: Average beer: $5
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