The Medieval field workers whom this restaurant’s name evokes would not have been able to place it, but the scent in the air at the Peasantry is most certainly that of truffle oil. It wafts from the waffle fries being ferried to the tables crowded with Lincoln Park date (and double-date) nights. There’s not an empty seat in the narrow, cabin-like house—be it Tuesday, be it Saturday. The cause for this enthusiasm is mostly the goodwill earned by, a hot-dog shop that furthered the Chicago belief that there is nothing more worthwhile than creating a truly great hot-dog shop. (The Peasantry’s owned by the same Aussie, Alexander Brunacci, and shares with Franks ‘N’ Dawgs its chef, Joe Doren.) But the crowds may also indicate a neighborhood’s near desperation: In the elevator on my way to review the place, a coworker politely requested I not prematurely kill off the most promising restaurant to open in her part of Lincoln Park in recent memory.
Breathe easy: The Peasantry is far from hatchet-worthy. It’s not perfect—in fact, it definitely could use a little bit of time to refine its dishes—but it’s a place any neighborhood would be justifiably happy to have. There’s a good selection of craft beers and a reasonable wine list (including house wine for $6.50/glass). And there’s a menu of food that is very firmly an extension of the Franks ‘N’ Dawgs approach to cooking: Make it rustic, make it meaty and why not make it borderline excessive? This is surely the mantra behind the spicy made-in-house chorizo wrapped in puff pastry, placed (somewhat randomly) over white beans that have been literally bathing in butter and accompanied by a spunky poblano cream. There are burgers—lamb, beef—that have such an intense char from the grill it’s a wonder they don’t arrive smoking: The server says they’re prepared “medium,” but the beef one comes out barely medium rare, its juiciness offset by bold pickled cauliflower. A layer of whole-grain mustard tucked beneath the skin of duck legs elevates the dish into an impressive bar snack, and anyone shy about frog legs will find the tender, fried ones here as easy to like as KFC.
Yet the food at the Peasantry walks a fine line between quirky and haphazard: Nutty Romesco sauce works well as a topping for lamb merguez sausage (served on the same impossible-not-to-love, lobster roll–style buns as at Franks ‘N’ Dawgs), but it’s less comprehensible why anyone would want to use it as a pasta sauce—and then top that carb-fest with slices of bread. (And the toasting of the bread, whether accompanying the pasta or the mussels, is bizarrely flawed: Any given slice manages to be both burned and completely untoasted.) I was similarly perplexed by the single dessert, a “deconstructed” candy bar, in which the two main components—chocolate cake, chocolate mousse—are so texturally off, the restaurant would be better off serving a Snickers.
If this were merely a counter-service hot-dog joint, a comment like that might seem a bit harsh. But introducing the trappings of a traditional restaurant—wine and beer, table service, higher prices—invites a new set of expectations. The rustic cooking here would go down easier without them.