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MorseL's Mixed Debut

By John DiGilio in Food on Nov 8, 2012 9:20PM

2012_11_DiGilio_Morsel.jpeg Rogers Park is on the rise again. Thanks to an upswing in development along the Morse Avenue corridor, the neighborhood is coming into its own as a destination for dining and entertainment. The latest arrival is the long-awaited MorseL eatery and cocktail bar The "coming soon" sign has come down after months of anticipation and speculation. Chicagoist was on hand for the restaurant's promising, if uneven, debut.

MorseL is a huge space featuring a small, eclectic menu. The immense corner structure was formerly a thrift store, though you'd never know it now. High ceilings, plentiful seating and an ample bar accentuate the cavernous interior. Large, bright pendulum lamps and a garage-gray floor keep it from feeling to homey and add a bit of an industrial flare. All in all, it is an excellent example of how to rehab and reuse a commercial space. In contrast to the size of the restaurant, its menu is but one page of choices that offer both comfort foods and more fanciful options. Escargot, battered fish, mac & cheese and pan-seared pork belly are just a few selections from the inspired melange. MorseL isn't cheap, but this is not lower end fare either.

We arrived opening night knowing that debuts are always iffy. Eateries need time to get up and running and work out the kinks. However, we also believe in the importance of first impressions. With that in mind, we took our seats and set to ordering. Service was attentive, friendly and very helpful. That was a plus. That it took over an hour to get our entrees was a little unsettling. For our appetizer, we chose the escargot plate. Baked with butter, herbs and breadcrumbs, it was served up hot and sans the shells, which was quite nice. Though a little light on flavor, it was still tasty. We'd recommend a little more kick to this dish. As an entree, we chose the battered cod. This meal really shined. The fish was flaky and flavorful. Not heavy, it was playfully paired with minty peas and chips (read: fries). We also sampled the mac & cheese, which also needed a little more oomph, and the pan-seared porkbelly, which was a bit too greasy and not as crispy as it should have been. These are common first days kinks that need to be worked out.

MorseL is one of those neighborhood concepts that you really want to see succeed. It is a great location and in an area that really needs the boost. The folks involved could not have been nicer. So we offer our comments above as bits of constructive criticism designed to help the place fully find its groove. There is some real promise here, and we will be back to check on its progress soon. As of the time of writing this, MorseL did not yet have an active web page. However, "Friends of MorseL" can already be found on Facebook. Just over a week in and they have folks talking. That's gotta be a good sign.

MorseL is located at 1406 W. Morse Ave.