La Grange is a restaurant town, not a bar town.
That's not necessarily the case with La Grange's newest eating and drinking establishment, Wild Monk, located at 88 S. La Grange Rd. This is La Grange's first gastropub. It's not that Wild Monk doesn't focus on food—they do. But I'll put it this way: The list of food items is two short pages and the drink list is four pages!
That's not the only reason Wild Monk feels a bit more like a bar than a restaurant—the bar itself is a main attraction. It's long, dark and lined with bottles of beer and booze. It commands attention as you walk through Wild Monk's beautiful wood doors. It feels a bit like you're walking into a monastery. (I guess that's the point.)
TVs line the walls and feature a rotation of sports, and the food is a riff on your standard bar food—think bar food for foodies. There's even a self-serve nut dispenser along one wall for patrons who crave a little salt with their suds.
"We wanted to create somewhere that adults could get away," owner Demetri Kopley said.
In other words, you don't have to be 21 to get in, but there's no kid's menu either.
The drink list at Wild Monk features a handful of cocktails, wines and domestic brews to wet your whistle, but the real focus is their selection of craft beers. They have 18 options on tap and another 78 available in bottles, the majority from craft brewers such as Goose Island, Three Floyds and Bells.
"We try to focus on some of the hard-to-find stuff," Kopley said.
Even the name is all about beer. According to Kopley, monks were among the first brewers of beer to sell their products, which were originally fermented with "wild" yeast—the kind that just floats around in the air.
All this talk about beer doesn't mean you will have a hard time finding something to eat. Created by Chef Riley Huddleston of Prasino (yeah the one across the street, Wild Monk is owned by the same family), the food menu is a foodie twist on bar favorites.
The food menu is divided across two pages, small plates and large plates. Small-plate items currently include bacon-wrapped dates, beer cheese nachos with braised meat and jardinière, and caramelized Brussels sprouts with bacon jam. Large-plate items include your traditional burger and fries (made with grass-fed beef), crispy pork belly BLT, and venison ragout.
The interior aesthetic of Wild Monk is more urban than suburban. Like Prasino, it's chic and well-designed, though more causal than the latter. Black walls and lots of wood and chrome accents help create its contemporary monastery aesthetic.
Also like Prasino, there is an emphasis on sustainably sourced and in-season foods. According to Kopley, the food comes from many of the same purveyors as Prasino, with the same focus on freshness.
For our review of Wild Monk, Patch ordered two dishes off the small-plate menu and two off the large-plate menu. We picked the caramelized Brussels spouts and nachos for our small plates and the crispy pork belly BLT and braised brisket Monte Cristo sandwich for the large plates.
I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Having never had a bad meal at Prasino, I had my expectations set high. The sprouts came out in what looked like a hot, cast iron skillet, but were only this side of warm. They ended up being our favorite dish though. The nachos were pretty standard, but surprisingly, lacked a lot of flavor. The BLT was the better sandwich between the two (we really liked the tomato jam), but both sandwiches were too greasy and heavy. Yes, I know we ordered a pork belly and a Monte Cristo, but a few bites are all we wanted of either.
Part of the reason the food didn't seem to reach Prasino's stardards might be that although Chef Riley designed the menu, he's not around to supervise it. He's currently heading things up at Prasino's new location in Chicago's Wicker Park Neighborhood.
Praise is in order for an outstanding beer list. The only nearby places that can rival it are Palmer Place and Brixie's in Brookfield. More cocktail options would have been nice, though. Many of the best gastropubs in Chicago feature an impressive selection of house cocktails, because mixed drinks are to drinkers what food is to foodies. The options available looked good, but it felt like a missed opportunity to show off their stuff.
All said, Wild Monk is off to a fine start and has room to grow. According to Kopley, the beer list is only going to get bigger, and I'd be interested in giving the food another try when it changes for the season.
If you were looking for a new place while you catch a play-off game this weekend, Wild Monk would be my pick, hands down.
Of the two reader reviews we've gotten on Patch so far, both gave Wild Monk four out of five stars. Check them out here, and let us know what you think too.