Peking duck at Trenchermen (Barry Brecheisen/For RedEye )
2039 W. North Ave. 773-661-1540
Rating: !!!! (out of 4) Already hot
What's in a name?
trench•er•man (noun) A person who enjoys food.
"It refers to a hearty eater; that's the actual definition, and we want people to eat and drink a lot," Mike Sheerin said. "It also translates to the fact that the space used to be an old bath house where politicians and gangsters used to meet. We want it to be known as a place where you can gather with friends and eat and drink to your heart's content."
When I first heard the word "Trencherman," it was way back in September of 2010. Mike Sheerin had just said goodbye to his gig as chef de cuisine at Blackbird and announced that he would look for investors for this new, curiously named restaurant.
In the 22 months since, Sheerin's been busy creating a menu for Trenchermen that nails what he describes as "creative, seasonal new American" food. He spent time in the kitchen at Munster, Ind.'s Three Floyds Brewery, then picked up another chef—his brother Patrick Sheerin, formerly of The Signature Room—to work with him on the new restaurant, and then changed the name to Trenchermen to reflect the team spirit. After the brothers whetted everyone's appetite with pop-up dinners that began nearly nine months ago, Trenchermen's opening date was pushed back again and again. Was this place ever going to open already?
A the tail end of June, a casual tweet from Patrick Sheerin at the tail end of June, tipped off fans that the brothers were ready to get cooking. As I walked through the doors during opening week, I had just one new question on my mind: Would it be worth the wait?
First things first: Order a drink.
I was eager to dig into the Sheerin brothers' food, but as soon as I sat down, there was no overlooking the cocktail list. Mixologist Tona Palomino hails from WD-50, one of New York City's most progressive restaurants, and he's clearly more than comfortable pairing bold drinks with equally ambitious food. On the boozy side, the Desperate Vesper ($12), made with gin, lillet blanc and Malort, could scare most people away (If you've ever had a shot of Malort, you're likely not to have a second). But my face didn't contort in agony after the first sip; in fact, it twisted into a smile when I realized that Malort, sipped in a restrained way, can actually balance out a sweeter cocktail with its bitterness. On the more mellow side, the Green Hornet ($12), a simple gin and tonic made with celery juice and celery bitters, was one of the most refreshing drinks I've tried so far this summer.
This isn't small plates.
How many times have you heard a server start your meal by saying, "Our menu is meant for sharing …"? Not at Trenchermen. It was hard not to over-order from Trenchermen's more traditionally structured menu, but my server wisely suggested ordering one main course and one or two appetizers per person. The most enjoyable starters were the quirky, eclectic dishes that played with my perception. Pickle tots ($10) have the crunchy-soft contrast I craved from a tater tot, but briny flecks of pickle and red onion yogurt sauce added enough tang to offset the fried potato. Sepia noodles ($12) were thin and chewy like perfectly al dente pasta, but are actually made of strips of cuttlefish, similar to calamari. Though sweetbreads ($15) don't scream summer, I fought my date for the last bites of these smooth, rich nuggets, served with Chinese-leaning lime-dressed carrots and smoky black garlic puree.
Embrace the eccentricity.
Entrees are equally as creative as the starters, but there's not a hint of cuteness on the plate. This is serious food, clearly cooked by dudes with appetites. My Peking duck ($24) arrived as two generous slices of moist but not fatty breast meat, complemented by a sweet-and-sour duo of red bean paste and preserved rhubarb. Pork belly may still be the new bacon, but Trenchermen's version ($25) isn't a trendy copycat. Tropical flavors of coconut and banana, along with fresh sugar snap peas, keep it firmly in summer territory.
Take it aaaall in.
You're going to be full after this meal, so sit back, get comfy and check out some of Trenchermen's cool details. This space, which used to be the restaurant Spring, was originally a bath house, and the restaurant's designer incorporated some of that vintage tile work in to the subtly steampunk design. Huge leaded glass light fixtures are the focal point of the dining room, but it's worth scanning the shadows for touches such as a potbelly stove, antique espresso machine and plush jewel-tone upholstery.
With Trenchermen's intricate menu, thoughtful design and high expectations, it's clear why the Sheerins and crew needed extra time to prepare. Now that they're finally open, the kitchen and bar are firing on all cylinders. Mark this down as the reason your mom used to remind you about that old saying, "Patience is a virtue."