The World’s First Michelin-Starred Brewpub Is a Quirky Chicago Hotspot
If this is the definition of pub grub, sign us up
“I think the most unexpected thing that people find is that we are actually a brewery,” says Michael Carroll, co-founder and head brewer of Band of Bohemia in Chicago’s industrial Ravenswood neighborhood. “We generally get credit for being a restaurant, which is very much true, but we house up to 3,100 gallons of house-made beer just behind the glass walls of the bar.”
The space, a former 1920s warehouse once home to an Oreo cookie factory, is unassuming and laid back, decorated with quirky vintage lamps and accents from the prior landlord. Sitting on what feels like a now-hip velvet loveseat from your grandmother’s living room, you may throw back some "King’s Cup Hooch"—a draft cocktail composed of Fords Gin, passionfruit, tamarind, lemon and a Tajin salt rim—which sets the tone as you wait for a booth, although the chef’s counter tasting menu isn't a bad option, either.
Whether you’re seeking damn-good brews (like their flagship Noble Raven Ale), a memorable meal or a peculiar place to drink with friends while playing board games, here's what makes this spot stand out:
It’s the world’s first Michelin-starred brewpub
Carroll and co-founder Craig Sindelar, both Alinea veterans, crafted a business plan for Band of Bohemia with a “Michelin-starred mindset,” says Sindelar. The “culinary brewhouse,” which opened doors in 2015, immediately received rave reviews and a well-deserved Michelin star within its first year. “We were never expecting to grasp upon those elusive stars," he adds. “That said, we are very thankful for the honor and strive to prove that the recognition is well-deserved." The spot heads into its second consecutive year of maintaining its star status.
The entrance will throw you off
One might normally associate a Michelin-starred restaurant (or brewpub, in this case) to be decked out in white tablecloths and buttoned-up staff dressed to the nines. Here, it's the complete opposite. Staff are in their own element, and the main entrance, on the north side of the brick building, opens to a parlor that will have you questioning if you’re in the right place—this is all intentional, of course. "The old-world living room is intended to prompt a sense of question in oneself whether you've entered into the right establishment, which in turn develops a certain amount of tension that is instantly replaced with relief and happiness once you turn the corner to see a cavernous, warm lit dining room,” says Sindelar.
Beer comes before food (and the wine list is insane, too)
Beer menus are sometimes developed as an afterthought to food, but that concept is reverse-engineered at Band of Bohemia. Beer recipes are created first, and the chef and culinary team then design dishes around them. “It creates an interesting dynamic, as it pushes our team to think a bit differently, which gives us the ability to create items that we may not have thought of before,” says Carroll. “Once we've created a dish that pairs properly with the beer, the next task is to then find wine that pairs with the dish—this can get interesting as we put most of our focus on beer and food pairings, but we still thrive on a dynamic wine pairing program led by Sindelar and Richard Richardson.”
Executive head chef Ian Davis is most excited about a dry-aged 60-day NY strip steak from Slagel Family Farm that’s served alongside heirloom carrots, pickled Romanesco, brown butter Béarnaise and herbed scones. “It screams fall/the holidays and was made to pair with Basmati Maitake Brown Ale,” he adds, of the earthy beer made with roasted maitake mushrooms and basmati rice.
Sushi croutons exist
While the menu is full of show-stopping bites, a delicious, woodsy-flavored duck dish with bok choy and sushi croutons was a standout—for the sushi croutons alone. Think overcooked sushi rice with coconut milk and water that’s pressed and cut into small, square pieces. “They're rolled in ground sushi rice, deep-fried and tossed with a mixture of spices and sugars,” Davis says.
Move over clear pumpkin pie
Lead pastry chef George Kovach is a dessert wizard, and his interpretation of pumpkin pie will also knock your socks off, in a clear pumpkin pie kind of way. “I feel that everyone does pumpkin spice desserts that are loaded down with cinnamon and clove—I'm not very big on that,” he says. “I started thinking about how a pumpkin is a squash and how often it is used in Caribbean cooking, so I decided to pair it with tropical flavors such as mango and tamarind.” As for its presentation, the dish resembles a pile of fall leaves: “That’s where the soil-esque granola and multi-colored chips come in.”
Whatever you do, do not exit without witnessing Kovach’s beloved fermented banana cheesecake paired with a Big Banana Wheat beer or a glass of Tokaji (like Hungary’s version of Sauternes, but even better).
There’s an entire coffee and tea menu to keep you lingering longer
The experience doesn’t end after Kovach’s deconstructed desserts, as there’s an entire coffee and tea menu helmed by Tom Santelle, also an Alinea alum. Expect intriguing sips like iced coffee with barley tea, sous-vide coffee and more. “Emphasis on coffee and tea, and spirit-free beverages in general, are a part of classic fine dining,” says Santelle. “The impetus of a comprehensive coffee and tea program is to make our guests relish the space and service before and after their meal,” and that, it does. By the way, sous-vide coffee is exactly as it sounds—coffee prepared via sous vide method. "By cooking" a coffee in a vacuum bag with tarragon, rosemary oleo saccharum, black cherry and pomegranate, we can create an integrated, comforting and intriguing beverage that doesn't taste ‘flavored,'” he says.