Bottlefork a smokin’ success


Bottlefork, 441 N. Clark St., operated by Rockit Ranch Productions, focuses on perfecting smoked meats and creatively mixed drinks. The Wood Grilled Ground Bacon Burger ($17) is smoked in-house.

In what looks like a cross between a tavern and a cooking show, business-casual twenty and thirty-somethings sit at crowded tables and giant booths divided between two bars—one for the drinks and the other for the meat. Specializing in smoked meat, clever egg creations and intensely strong cocktails, Bottlefork, 441 N. Clark St., is a high-end casual bar that is both intimate and inviting. The menu is mostly hit-or-miss because of the chef’s daring flavor combinations, but the snack options, alcohol-accented desserts and atmosphere make Bottlefork a place that gives visitors a savory experience and a comfortable space to let loose in. 

Bottlefork opened in February under Rockit Ranch Productions, a restaurant and entertainment company that owns meat-focused eateries Rockit Bar and Grill and Rockit Burger Bar in Lakeview. Like Rockit Ranch restaurants, Bottlefork focuses on artfully preparing locally raised beef with the expertise of chef Kevin Hickey. However, the skilled execution of the smoking process and use of meat drippings is more inventive than at other Rockit burger joints. 

The gourmet twist on typical pub food and delicacies alike can be exciting for the taste buds, but also harsh in many cases. Big Salty Tears ($14) is a potent cocktail made with sherries, orange flower water, maple, lemon and egg. The egg creates a top layer of foam that is pleasantly creamy at first but eventually leaves the drink tasting like nothing except salt water and alcohol. When paired with the Wood Grilled Ground Bacon Burger ($17), the extreme saturated smoky flavor is a good match, but the extra salt from the meat curing leaves the cocktail undrinkable. The Grilled Octopus with Homemade Spam ($17) avoided the salt conundrum, but the fragile outside skin was completely charred, resulting in an overwhelming smoked flavor. 

However, the Losna cocktail ($14), which contains rum and Movie Night tea syrup among other ingredients, was satisfyingly sweet and paired nicely with the “Bag” of Crisps + Eggs ($4). Presented as a bag of homemade chips alongside a plate with an over-easy egg on it, the dish is perfected when the server pours the egg onto the chips and shakes the bag. The result is homemade potato chips seasoned with salt, vinegar and coated in an egg sauce that mimics a cheese flavor. Even as the egg gets cold and the chips become soggy, the snack remains deliciously sweet and salty. 

The “Popcorn” Sweetbreads ($7), one of the menu’s snack options, are confusing but flavorful. They taste like chicken but then a little like alligator, a soft white meat, because of the soft texture. Despite the name, sweetbreads are neither sweet nor bread. They are actually the glands of various animals, making them surprisingly juicy and crunchy with an added spicy kick. In general, the snack options offer a variety of flavors to enjoy while sipping a creative cocktail. 

Bottlefork’s signature Smoke of the Day ($14) combines fresh meat drippings daily with whiskey for the menu’s ominously named, “bartender’s whim.” The whiskey is so overpowering that the flavor of meat and the smoke taste are nearly unidentifiable, making the use of the meat drippings a disappointing attempt at flavor. 

Dessert is not an afterthought at Bottlefork. Filled with smooth vanilla ice cream and rich chocolate, the Brandy Sundae ($8) had just the right amount of pretzel and a Brandy foam finish resulting in a vortex of flavor and texture that was complete bliss. 

Bottlefork’s clientele, like its food, is specific and unique. This innovative bar is no place for vegetarians or timid foodies, but for the niche crowd of adventurous meat connoisseurs, Bottlefork may become a neighborhood staple.