If you ever find yourself on 18th Street, and hungry, you can stumble into the closest no-name taquería, order more than your fair share of carne asada, and still leave with no regrets. You can’t eat a taco at Dusek’s, but you can drink a great beer. A full draft list brims with offerings from Belgium to Baltimore, with flavor notes described as “rich toffee, earthy hops,” or simply “This is what west coast IPA is supposed to taste like.” And a wide-ranging menu, with oysters and duck wings, lobster roll and sweetbread of veal, comes crafted with these tastes in mind. This is, the wait staff tells us, “beer-inspired cuisine.”
Like any good six-pack, that’s a signal to share. The menu, split only into categories like “By Sea” and “By Land & Air,”,is a little difficult to navigate. Fourteen dollars gets you a small bite of fish or a burger with duck fat fries. It’s easiest to consider it a tasting menu—and it’s tastiest to just beeline for those meats. That fourteen-dollar plate of fish, a flounder crudo, is bathed in a smattering of fruits and flavorings, as well as an avocado mousse, but still manages to come off as muted and light. Pea tendrils top it off with a sprightly, floral touch, but also remind you the fish just isn’t that flavorful. There isn’t much to the burger, either, but it works. A red-onion bacon marmalade and a generous slab of fresh, medium-rare ground beef are all the juice you need (lettuce and heirloom tomato come standard, too). It holds up nicely, so you can put it down and enjoy the savory crunch of the duck fat fries—not to mention the beer.
Dusek’s is still getting off the ground, and a few beers on the draft list are still coming in, but what is here is encouraging. A pumpkin ale had a nice touch of bitter spice; a kölsch was cool and comforting; a white IPA tasted mildly of honey. It’s unclear where the food takes inspiration from all of this, but its heartiness could well be a clue.
Besides, anything pairs well with bacon. It crowns a dish of braised green beans—on the “Greens and Grains” portion of the menu—and its lardons grace a plate of crispy pig tails. The green beans are tender, smacking deliciously of fried shallots and salt, and they remain the heart of this (admittedly little) dish; the bacon is its soul.
As for the pig tails: they are crusty and yielding at once, fried on the outside and packed with tender pieces of pulled meat within. Crack the crusts with a spoon, dip the pork in the accompanying gribiche, and do a little dance inside your head. Glance up and take in the vintage bookshelves and electric bulbs. Are you in the nineteenth century or the twenty-first? It doesn’t matter. This is what beer-inspired cuisine is supposed to taste like.
Dusek’s Board and Beer, 1227 W. 18th St. Daily, 5pm-2am. Kitchen closes at 1am. (312)526-3851. thaliahallchicago.com