A couple of weeks ago I left Logan Square’s new food bar, Scofflaw, to find a line snaking down the block. It was a Friday night, around 11:30pm, and since Scofflaw is so new, it stands to reason many of these people were making their first visit. They didn’t know what exactly they were waiting for, but they were willing to wait nonetheless.
That’s the pull of the food bar, the not-quite-restaurant, not-exclusively-a-bar concept that is now in Logan Square (not just in the form of Scofflaw, but also [node:14901403 link=Telegraph;]), Ravenswood ([node:15182046 link=Troquet;]) and in the no-man’s-land near the Hideout (Ada St.). At that last joint, I watched as the room filled to capacity just 15 minutes after its 6pm opening time. Here, too, people chose to wait for a table inside its uncommonly dark, candlelit lobby—even though outside it was sunny, cool and probably a free-for-all at 99 percent of the best bars in town.
I can’t blame anybody for waiting for a seat at Ada St. Waits here are rewarded threefold, first with the slick, sophisticated, sunlight-filled dining room, second with bartender Tim Lacey’s smart cocktails (not to mention his charming bar banter), third with chef Zoe Schor’s food. Schor (who works with partner Michael Kornick on the menu) batters and fries black-eyed peas to create the perfect bar snack. In a very Jean-Georges move, she pairs roasted carrots with avocado and crème fraîche for a beautiful salad. She dresses deliciously bloody sirloin with nothing more than the meat’s juices and some brown butter, and pairs her ricotta doughnuts with just a little ramekin of caramel. Neither dish needs anything else—they are perfect as they are.
And they are perfect with Lacey’s cocktails, which are clean and unexpected and food-friendly. Two that I hope make it to Lacey’s spring cocktail list are Falling in Love Again, an aperitif made of Riesling, vermouth and lemon juice, and All This Useless Beauty, a combination of gin, apple cider and bitters. Both of these are light on the palate, balanced in acidity and sweetness, and the kind of cocktails you will not regret drinking for an entire night, no matter how long you wait for them.
I can’t be as rapturous about the cocktails at Scofflaw. To my companions and me, the Basil Bramble was notable mostly because of its similarities to Flintstones vitamins. And the Newer Newark is your typical modern attempt to be down with amari—amaro, vermouth and root-beer bitters mixed into a thick, off-dry slurry. These are drinks by bartender and partner Danny Shapiro, a nice guy who won over a lot of media types via his work with Paul McGee at the Whistler. His banter is not as perfected as Lacey’s, but then again, Shapiro hasn’t been in the game nearly as long. And it shows. Waits for a drink—even a beer—at Scofflaw can inch up to 20 minutes. And when they arrive (on one visit, mine arrived after my food), they don’t mesh with the solid sandwiches, etc., coming out of the kitchen. The brisket sandwich (and, for that matter, the pork cheek sandwich, which has a similar fatty-savory-messy thing going on) needs something Scofflaw’s cocktails don’t provide: a reprieve.
So I’ve been thinking about that line outside. I know that food bars have magnetic-like pulls right now, and I know why. Ada St. proves how pleasant it can be, how refreshing it is to have some—but not all (the place takes reservations)—of the trappings of a traditional restaurant removed. But Scofflaw is an example of what happens when the removal of those trappings goes too far. As I ate there, standing at a high-top, served by a woman who literally forgot I was there, Scofflaw did not feel like a food bar. It just felt like a bar.
Ada St. 1664 N Ada St, (773-697-7069)
Scofflaw 3201 W Armitage Ave, (773-252-9700)
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