Have you ever wanted to go out and watch the game without having to eat the same old sports bar food? Sports bars are a dime a dozen in Chicago, but the Commonwealth Tavern (2000 Roscoe Street in Roscoe Village) stands out from the pack by merging your favorite bar with your favorite foodie restaurant. While you can still pound down Miller Lites and chew into a burger, you can also enjoy a fresh endive salad that looks like a piece of artwork while sipping on an Old Fashioned.
The Commonwealth Tavern sits on the corner of Damen and Roscoe in a lively part of Roscoe Village that’s easily accessible by bus or the Brown Line. It’s only been open a year and the inside of Commonwealth still looks immaculate. The wood walls along the entrance give the bar a warm and inviting feeling while the clear and bright light let you see this is probably the cleanest tavern you’ve ever been inside.
There are some gigantic televisions along the walls that are balanced out by minimal d’cor and intelligent accents, like books behind the bar. Even though it was March Madness, the TV sets could be ignored. They weren’t blasting the announcers and instead playing slick indie rock from the likes of the XX. You could easily have a cute date night, chill out with the bros, or bring the family.
The Commonwealth is quite casual, and this is one of the places where you just seat yourself. There was only a minute or two before a server greeted me and was ready to take my drink order. Throughout the evening, she was very friendly and attentive and made sure we had everything we needed. Plus, she knew every part of the menu inside and out. And there was not a lot of waiting downtime while waiting for food.
The bar had about 20 beers on tap that were mostly of the craft variety, though you can still get a Miller Lite, with a few dozen more in cans and bottles. They also have a variety of cocktails with their takes on classics like the Manhattan and Moscow Mule, along with some originals. My favorite was the Dictator, which featured gin, rum, orangecello, fresh lime juice, mint leaves, cherry syrup, and was topped off with champagne. I felt awake and invigorated after a long day of work.
I was able to try several selections from the chef and came away very full and very impressed. Commonwealth Tavern’s menu succeeds by taking familiar foods and merging them with some unexpected ingredients. Most of the dishes mixed a plethora of tastes and textures into a delicious, cohesive whole. It must also be said that the food presentation was simply gorgeous at times.
Here were a few of the highlights:
Scallops at a bar are usually some deep fried nonsense piled on with other types of mysteriously battered globs that could be shrimp. I was first impressed with the large portion size of this so-called ‘small’ plate. The scallops were soft and not too chewy, which was balanced out with smoky mushrooms and tiny chips whose satisfying crunch mixed well with the smoothness of the scallops.
My photos certainly don’t do justice to the Commonwealth’s endive salad. On top of plate was a brilliant mix of colors that seemed ready for a spot on the front page of a food magazine. The salad’s numerous toppings (pickled currant, hazelnut, and gravity hill cheese to name a few) were all complimentary and it was startling fresh.
Fried Smoked Potatoes
The fried smoked potatoes were outstanding and a clear highlight of the evening’s meal. The small potatoes were so smooth and seamless it barely registered I was eating a potato. Though great on their own, what make these potatoes so wonderful were the flavors: aioli sauce gave the potatoes a little sweetness, which was intensified by a satisfying spice kick from the chorizo. I’d be perfectly happy eating these everyday for the rest of my life.
Gnocchi is a common staple of Italian restaurants, but Commonwealth mixed their potato clouds in combination with smoky mushroom jus, mushrooms, chili peppers, and some ricotta to highlight smoky flavors and create a dish that almost tasted like barbecue. I also enjoyed the mix of textures again, like with the scallops, mixing soft and crunchy ingredients.
Along with the potatoes, this Mediterranean-influenced chicken was simply incredible. This was some of the most tender’chicken I’ve ever had, just perfectly falling off the bone and expertly spiced. If you like chicken, don’t pass this up.
The Bottom Line
I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical about the concept of Commonwealth, but I’m sold. This is a place that manages to cater to pretty much everyone and comes out ahead. With great food, a fun atmosphere, and excellent service, the Commonwealth is a definite Chicago Traveler top pick.
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