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Review: The Monarch

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Apr 3, 2013 7:00PM

Democracy is hard. Absolute sovereignty simplifies things considerably. If a ruler wants to stay in power, he or she would do best to ply the public with good food and drink, a tactic of which the Monarch, formerly the Uberstein, is well aware. Fortunately for its own foreseeable reign, this Wicker Park bar and restaurant is serving up food, booze, and music almost too enjoyable to leave for more egalitarian shores.

Perhaps we’re too easily seduced by a charismatic leader, but owner Colin Burke’s hospitality was our first clue that we’d enjoy our fleeting time on this throne. He seated us at a table along a backlit bench lined with lavender succulents while our waitress brought us a complimentary glass of sparkling wine. With Andrew Brochu, former executive chef at Graham Elliot, helming the kitchen, a homely bier garden this is not, though the space, despite the candelabras dripping with the secrets of so many decaying dynasties, still retains its indelible sports bar vibe. Even from the very back of the restaurant, you still can’t help catching an eyeful of men intensively dribbling orange rubber balls. Fortunately for our own predilections, other screens were filled with music videos from David Bowie to Supergrass to Soul Train—Don Cornelius lives!—that set off our grub to retro-rock perfection.

For an appetizer, our waitress recommended the dill pickled wings ($10), a dish close to Brochu’s heart, we were told. So we gave it a gander, even though historically we’ve allied ourselves with the anti-pickle faction. And were the wings served cold, we’d have retained our allegiances, but they were warm, piquant, and tasty indeed. Less than a minute later and the once fleshy brown wings were nothing but bones. We also munched on a soft pretzel with beer cheese (a needlessly pricey $9), which, as there were two, we couldn’t finish by meal’s end because our main courses—the fried green tomato sandwich with jalapeno cream and gruyere ($12) and garlic sausage with pork belly, cabbage, and candied mustard seed ($17)—arrived post-haste as Jane’s Addiction was shrieking an ecstatic “Pigs in Zen.”

Both entrees largely fulfilled on the promise of Brochu’s talents; for a little less moola, this is just the kind of bar food we could get used to, though in an absolute paradise the sandwich bread would have been a hearty whole wheat or sourdough, not a wan Wonderbread white.

Tthe high point came with the simplest and thriftiest treat, the Monarch’s version of an ice cream truck: a Playmate cooler filled with everything in the Good Humor Man’s nomadic freezer for $2. Set beside Kiss’ “I Love It Loud,” let’s just say our strawberry shortcake bar worked. Like so many other things, royalty has to evolve or die, and the Monarch appears to be making an honest attempt at a long-lasting regime. Were its vittles a little less pricey, we just might emigrate.

The Monarch is located at 1745 W North Ave.