A Tough Act to Follow

By John DiGilio in Food on Aug 16, 2011 6:40PM

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It is no mere play on words to say that something must be cooking up in Rogers Park. Every time we think we have wrapped our lips around the last tasty morsel this neighborhood could possibly offer up, something new catches our eye and our fancy. Recently, we have written about everything from Thai cuisine to comfort food to coffee. Who knew Rogers Park had so much to offer diners? With our recent discovery of Act One at the Mayne Stage, we can even say that they have a gastropub. Make that a good gastropub!

Many think of the Mayne Stage as a hip, out-of-the-way entertainment venue. Situated in the city's northern extremities, it features world class talent and a numer of intimate lounge bars. We love a good show, of course. But let's face it, we are foodies. Live music and stand-up comedy aside, the headlining attraction for us is what they have going on down in the kitchen. That is where Act One comes in. Conveniently located on the main floor, the restaurant is open to both ticket holders and those simply looking for dinner sans show. The cuisine is decidedly American, generously portioned, and very vegetarian-friendly.

We decided to put the talents of Act One to the test over dinner. We started with some moderately priced tempura fried pickles. At six dollars an order, we were worried that we'd get a small plate of battered pickle slices like you see in so many restaurants these days. We were delighted when our server placed a plate stacked with whole, tempura-coated spears before us. They were crispy and just sour enough to get our mouths watering for more. The serving was big enough for two to share. We also tried the seared salmon and the vegetarian shepherd's pie. The fish was cooked to a tender, flaky perfection. It was nicely seasoned and accompanied nicely by a bed of jasmine rice. It went down quickly! The shepherd's pie was equally as tasty and real vegetarian surprise. A flavorful stew of carrots, grains, peas, onions, and other veggies, it was served hot in a cast iron skillet and topped with savory mashed potatoes. It was more than enough for one person, filling and delicious. Both came in under $20 and were well worth it.

As full as we were, we knew the show would not be over until we tried some of the desserts. With each at five dollars or less, we just had to go for the encore. A strawberry shortcake and a tootsie roll cheesecake later and we were ready to take a bow. The fresh strawberries and cream of the shortcake were delicious, but it was the cheesecake that stole the show. It featured a thick, creamy slice drizzled in a ganache made from real Toostie Rolls and made for a command performance. We would go back just for that alone! Suffice it to say that we left Act One having had our expectations, our palates, and our tummies fully entertained!

Act One is located at 1330 West Morse Avenue.