Last night a friend and Chicago expat was in town, so we went to the Monday farm dinner at Lula. Ira Glass's review remains true: "I don't say this lightly: it may be the best neighborhood restaurant in Chicago…. I brought a friend who's a professional chef in New York, and he stuck around for hours to order nearly everything on the menu." I popped in early to check out the new bar—not going to lie, part of the reason I did was to hear Specimen Speakers for the first time.
I sidled in next to some folks drinking PBR with lime, a taste explosion I had heretofore not encountered. I got a mixed drink; my wife wisely chose a cava—a nice choice given the weather we're having.
My beer nerd friend showed up shortly thereafter, and ordered something that I never would have chosen if I didn't know the back story (I don't have a very good taste memory or instinct, but I do like stories): Virtue RedStreak Cider, the first brew from ex-Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall's new venture. News broke that Hall was going into cider last June; Eater Chicago got some good details on the financial end of the business, including the substantial startup costs involved. In November, Time Out's Julia Kramer checked in:
The limited accessibility of good cider—and the poor quality of ciders that are readily available—presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Hall. On the one hand, there’s going to be a learning curve. “Most people have not had a traditional English or French or Spanish hard cider,” Hall says, “and they don’t know what to expect.” And just as damaging, the public might assume that since any cider they’ve tried has been sweet, strong and tasted pretty much alike, that’s simply the nature of the beverage. “I don’t think people are just going to wake up and say, ‘Hey, I’ll go down to the store and see if there’s any good cider there,’ ” Hall says.
A few days ago, it started rolling out:
And there it was at Lula. Hall is on point about cider; "sweet, strong, and tasting pretty much alike" is why ordering one never would have occurred to me (I'd like to think gender normativity has nothing to do with it, but I don't know my own mind that well). And RedStreak is neither sweet nor strong. I'm glad I happened to have a bit of cava first, because it was closer to a good sparkling wine than the ciders I'm used to, which taste like the sparkling ciders of pre-legal New Year's Eves past with some alcohol. It's dry, light-tasting yet complex, and as Hall has said, tastes more of peel (in a good way) than apple itself: the tannin/fruit balance tastes a bit like that first bite of an apple, and paired perfectly with a sophisticated farm meal. I just hope the weather doesn't present too much of a challenge.