The Portage

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Portage Park

This is between me and Kobe burgers. Or Wagyu, as you sometimes identify yourselves.

You may be popular. In fact, you may have been ordered by every other table at the Portage the night I visited. The server may have suggested that you would be the best burger I had ever tasted. But it was out of his hands—out of the chef’s hands, even.

This is between me and Kobe burgers. Or Wagyu, as you sometimes identify yourselves.

You may be popular. In fact, you may have been ordered by every other table at the Portage the night I visited. The server may have suggested that you would be the best burger I had ever tasted. But it was out of his hands—out of the chef’s hands, even.

Kobe, your entire existence is flawed. You are mush! You have no structural integrity! You taste raw and weird on the inside. Please, Kobe burgers, go away.

Everything else at the Portage: Can you stay? Because the exterior patio, with its sauna-like natural-wood walls, is sleek and inviting. And the owner, Quay Tao, who greets the tables and shakes hands at the door as diners leave, adds a genuine neighborhood-restaurant charm.

And the rest of the food, from chef Jeff Brantley—a native of Columbus, Georgia—is the sort of comforting, well-executed stuff that anyone would be lucky to have in his or her neighborhood. The romaine salad couldn’t be simpler: It’s a plate of romaine leaves tossed in a sweet, herbaceous dressing sprinkled with grated hard-boiled egg—and it’s a plate I could easily eat every day for lunch. Tomato gazpacho started out watery and underseasoned: Swirled with the dollop of crème fraîche in the bowl, it morphed into something more appealing.

For mains, you can be forgiven if you go for that Kobe burger: There’s so much piled on top of it—a juicy, roasted tomato; sweet caramelized onions; a generous slather of aioli—you might not even notice the beef’s texture, and it does, I admit, come with superb, crispy fries. But I’m partial to the chicken, thickly breaded, fried dark and crispy, but crazy juicy and tender inside, served with a white cream gravy that fans of chicken-fried steak will know and love. The super-sweet coconut rice it comes with, though, is take-it-or-leave-it. Take it if you’re not ordering dessert. Leave it for a few scoops of housemade rhubarb ice cream if you’re me.

By Julia Kramer. Photographs by Jill Paider.

Venue name: The Portage
Contact:
Address: 3938 N Central Ave
Chicago

Cross street: between Dakin St and Irving Park Rd
Opening hours: Dinner (closed Mon)
Transport: Bus: 80, 85.
Price: Average main course: $15
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