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  • Restaurants
  • River West/West Town
  • price 2 of 4
  1. Walleye
    Photograph: Courtesy of Matthew ReevesWalleye.
  2. fennel dish
    Photograph: Maggie HennessyFennel.
  3. tagliatelle
    Photograph: Courtesy of Matthew ReevesTagliatelle.
  4. A bowl of beef cheeks
    Photograph: Courtesy of Matthew ReevesBeef cheeks.
  5. italian beef tongue
    Photograph: Courtesy of Matthew ReevesItalian beef tongue.
  6. Apple cider donuts
    Photograph: Courtesy of Matthew ReevesApple cider donuts.
  7. A cocktail next to a menu
    Photograph: Courtesy of Matthew Reeves

Time Out says

Gutsy creativity infuses the seasonal Great Lakes comfort food at this magnetic West Town newcomer.

For a long time, we Midwestern Great Lakers kept many of our choicest food secrets in our grocery stores, delis and unassuming corner taverns. I’m talking about chunky smoked whitefish dip; oily giardiniera heaped on Italian beef; tangy beer cheese; crisp-edged hash; and charred, meaty burnt ends. What a time to see these ingredients reimagined with fine-dining ingenuity and breathless seasonality at places like Giant, Daisies and now five-month-old Nettare. 

Nettare—meaning “nectar,” in reference to the restorative nature of good hospitality—is the debut restaurant of longtime bartender-turned restaurateur Conner O’Byrne (Publican, La Josie), with food helmed by executive chef John Dahlstrom (BLVD, Table, Donkey and Stick). This all-day cafe with a retail shop has the hipster, something-for-everyone vibe that’s pervaded openings since the pandemic. Despite the airy, plant-filled environs, Nettare’s food—punchy, rich and brackish on a recent April evening—recalls the embrace of a neighborhood joint with knotty-wood walls in, say, Petoskey, Michigan, or a timeworn Chicago beef stand. But friendly Midwestern comfort is merely a jumping-off point in the capable hands of Dahlstrom and company.

The elongated, brick-walled space unfurls as a regionally focused market and bottle shop up front, past a hallway chef’s counter to the 45-seat dining room in back. Sliding into a banquette as evening waned, I felt soothed by the climbing, leafy plants and dim natural light pouring in from the skylight. 

My date’s clarified Old Fashioned Pancakes smacked cheekily of the sugared pecans my mother-in-law used to make at the holidays. My dill-scented Nordi Spritz cocktail with vermouth and aquavit was a fresh, saline partner to house-smoked salmon flecked with smoky roe, which we piled on chewy, griddled house-made focaccia. 

“You look like a music video from the year 2000,” said the amiable Dahlstrom as he deposited the charred fennel nestled in green mole—a then-new dish from sous chef Riley McCluskey. (To be fair, I wore a less-than-subtle necktie to dinner.) The dish was an earthy, sweet, herbaceous revelation: gently anisey fennel marrying springy green mole tinged with cilantro, sweet roasted alliums, blistered peppers and pungent cumin. Then came the bacon burnt ends with pickled onions and charred napa cabbage slaw. The pull-apart, beer-braised meat was sweet, savory and smoky—lacquered with just enough tangy, sticky sherry vinegar BBQ sauce that I’m told chef de partie Eric Wigton dreamt up

I hope that glossy meat bark stays on the menu forever, much like the crisp-skinned, buttery walleye, which lazed in a two-day stock so deep and rich with Parm rind and chicken bones and dark parts, it tasted like caldo de pollo on umami steroids. A shot of lemon and tangle of collards lent welcome brightness and bitter edge. 

It was around this time I understood why our server had worried aloud about the amount I ordered. But when I declared I had hashy plans for the leftover pork belly and (then forthcoming) beef cheek—a move I highly recommend to the indecisive orderer—he delightedly set off in pursuit of passable to-go vessels (aluminum foil packets and a compostable bag). 

There’s a refreshing ease to the service style here that makes the experience memorable without sliding into precious territory. Generously portioned dishes don’t feel overly self-serious, either, partly because they change so often in this collaborative place. This approach makes it easy to forgive occasional missteps. In that night’s case, these were the mouth-drying housemade pierogi, which were filled with a mealy mixture of mozzarella and salty giardiniera, fried and smeared with marinara as thick and jammy as tomato paste. Likewise, the unctuous, almost tacky beef cheek—cured and confited and served atop oniony soubise with brackish house sauerkraut—was oversalted such that I could only bear a bite or two. It’s since been replaced by robust beef belly that’s brined instead of cured before getting similar treatment. 

At our server’s behest, we kept things “light” at dessert, sharing stretchy-good “Tooti Fruiti” ice cream that tasted like the milk-logged Fruity Pebbles of my Midwestern childhood—if they had been made from actual fruits. As I lingered in that wholesome moment, I appreciated the beautiful simplicity of this whole damn concept. Like the name promised, its collective elements had successfully conspired to leave me feeling better than when I’d arrived. Plus, I had the promise of beefy pork belly hash tomorrow.   

The food: Bold, savory all-day fare (mostly) changes with the marching, Upper Midwestern seasons. Excellent dinnertime staples include the smoke-kissed chicken with giardiniera-infused baked beans and the walleye with collards in rich chicken stock. Don’t miss the bacon burnt ends or charred fennel while you can. Nettare offers a decidedly affordable five-course tasting menu for $75 (plus $35 for wine pairings) in the dining room or at the chef’s counter. A tight daytime menu includes a hefty breakfast sandwich and a porchetta tartine. 

The drink: Conner O’Byrne’s locally focused cocktail list boasts fun-loving reimaginings of classics, like giardiniera-soused dirty martinis and cider apple brandy French 75s. Partner and sommelier Francesca Robbs curated the stunning, all Great Lakes wine list. Pro tip: If you see a wine from Modales or BOS, pounce immediately! Beer and cider are all local, too; duh.

The space: This multipurpose space co-designed by Project Interiors and O’Byrne starts as a retail shop, then rambles past a smallish chef’s counter overlooking the kitchen into an airy dining room outfitted in plant life lovingly raised by Sprout Home, arched mirrors and banquettes edged with geometrically stacked breezeblocks.

Maggie Hennessy
Written by
Maggie Hennessy


1953 W Chicago Ave
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Opening hours:
Wed-Sat 5pm-11pm
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