While we here at Munch Co., LLC., are certain that you hang onto our every precious printed word, you may need a reminder that last week’s review of a new Downtown spot opened with the line “Restaurants come and restaurants go. If you’re like me, you amble through the South Side every so often, see that a new place has opened and have a tough time recalling what occupied that particular storefront just two years ago.”
That’s germane because as so happens this week, Munch ambled to exactly one of those places, specifically to The Urban Tap. Once the longtime East Carson home of Old Europe, it became the medium-time home of Mantini’s Woodfired, which gave way to the short-time home of the Brik Room, and while vacant since 2011, its doorway had been an occasional overnight home of traveling crusties and their dogs.
However, this year the DeMauro family of Jimmy D’s fame (and the defunct Pi Coal Oven Pizza), began work on The Urban Tap. Having spent more post-college Jagerbomb-fueled nights at Jimmy D’s than I care to remember (because frankly, most of them I can’t remember), but also having been mostly positive on the food at Pi, I was curious to see which way they’d take things: bro show or gastro — as in pub.
To owner John DeMauro’s credit, it’s very much the latter. Executive chef Marc Barckhoff has constructed a creative menu that nicely intersects some staples with real gourmet flourishes, and great beer. Of course, that should be expected in a place where a Brobdingnagian beer tap — easily 8 feet tall! — constructed of industrial pipes and fittings is the first thing patrons see upon entering. The contraption actually works, too, reflecting a fun sense of humor in a place self-proclaimed as “Saahside’s Finest.”
The well-curated beer list of 40 drafts recently included the excellent Victory Dirt Wolf Double IPA and Founder’s Breakfast Stout. I chose the awesomely autumnal East End “Nunkin” — so named because it’s got all of the seasonal spices of a pumpkin beer without any actual pumpkin — to sip along with a cup of a chipotle pumpkin soup ($4). A little smoky, a little sweet and not too creamy, the soup was a delicious opener and went well with the beer.
There are multiple daily specials: typically a burger, mac and cheese, small plate and entree. Past offerings have included pan-seared monkfish cheeks, with shallot cous-cous, fennel puree and fried leeks ($22.50); a duck confit poutine ($14.50); and a gouda and cheddar mac and cheese with a roasted pepper puree and a hot sausage ($11.50).
During a recent visit, the burger special was a housemade Head Cheese Burger with arugula and Port Salut cheese ($11). Despite its name, head cheese isn’t cheese, nor is it made from the crania of Wisconsonites. Rather it’s like a pate of pig parts, usually the head or feet. Or tongue. I’d never had it before and it tasted kind of like brunschweiger and was a flavorful, earthy complement to the juicy, locally sourced burger. Well played.
On another stop, I tried the pan-seared Scottish sea trout. A lot like salmon, it was paired with a slightly sweet, butternut squash risotto and bitter fried rapini ($24). Topped with roasted tomato and pepper chutney, this was a nicely cooked, tasty piece of fish and a quality plate of food.
The wine and cocktail lists are serviceable, if a tad pedestrian, but a bartender said they are being revamped to include options with house-infused spirits. Service was good though some staff could have a better command of the specials and beer list.
One complaint: the IMAX-sized TVs and their ear-splitting racket are tolerable when the local teams are broadcast, but totally unnecessary on a weeknight when the only thing on is an ESPN documentary that no one is paying any attention to. Same with the jukebox. No one — No. One. — should ever be subjected to the Black Eyed Peas at high volume while eating. They probably did that to Gitmo detainees.
But aside from my jaunt into age-induced crankiness, I would gladly return for the fare and the brew. And at an address that’s previously seen plenty of turnover, The Urban Tap has the makings of a longterm tenant.
The Urban Tap is at 1210 E. Carson St., South Side. Call 412-586-7499 or visit www.theurbantap.com
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Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.