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First Look: Max's Wine Dive

By Erika Kubick in Food on Aug 19, 2014 8:30PM

The closing of Bin Wine Café left a hole in Wicker Park’s nightlife scene. Shortly after Bin shuttered its doors and transformed into the craft beer spot Links Tap Room, signs for Max’s Wine Dive began to appear across the street in the former location of Covo Gyro Market.

While Wicker Park was in need of a wine bar, I’ll admit that I was skeptical in anticipation. The logo has a generic, corporate group feel and I was turned off by their slogan, “Fried chicken and champagne, why the hell not?!” But I was too quick to judge on this seemingly pedestrian pairing: Max’s Wine Dive offers quality wine at reasonable prices, refined comfort food and a welcoming, laid back atmosphere—a great asset to Wicker Park.

Max's Milwaukee Avenue outpost is the first location outside its Texas homebase. The concept is built around approachable hospitality, sans the usual wine snobbery, and highlights food pairings outside of the typical cheese and charcuterie boards. In essence it’s everything Bin was not, which just might keep Max’s around longer. Moreover, the wine markups truly seem pretty low, which means that even the cheapest glasses are actually delicious.

While I was welcomed with a complimentary pour of Cremant Rosé, I couldn't resist the urge to purchase a couple more glasses, including a luscious tawny port, Max et Jacques (a clean, silky chardonnay), and one of a couple bottles made exclusively for Max's. If there is a bottle you’re dying to try but can’t finish by yourself, Max’s will open any bottle with a minimum of two-glass commitment. Overall, the selection is approachable and unique while also offering a wide variety of price ranges.

The menu is surprisingly refined, but still maintains the comfort of Southern home cooking. Executive Chef Jessica Brumleve, who has spent time at Everest, Atwood Café and Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, gathers her ingredients from the Wicker Park farmers market and implements them into her menu. While the left-hand side of the menu—the classics that derive from Max's Texan roots, such as the fried chicken—remain the same throughout the locations, on the right-hand size Brumleve creates her unique, locally focused menu that will change three to four times a year. I was provided with a tasting of Brumleve's favorite dishes, including her BLT salad, with baby Bibb lettuce, summer heirloom tomatoes and bacon blue cheese, which she makes by rendering out the bacon fat, mixing it with the blue cheese, freezing the concoction and grating it over the salad. In an effort to personalize Max's signature fried chicken, Brumleve also offers it with her own fixings, including baby arugula, goat cheese, watermelon salad, candied pecans and a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette. Try sipping your champagne with that!

Max’s challenge now will be to find the right crowd on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue saturated in bars and restaurants, in a storefront that has seen high turnover. The mobs that pack sports bars in the neighborhood might not be taken with a wine presence, while the yuppies who frequented Bin may find themselves put off by the divey aesthetic. However, Max’s Southern approach to the American wine bar has a place in Wicker Park; let your taste buds do the judging.

Max’s Wine Dive is located at 1482 N. Milwaukee Ave. and open on Monday - Thursday from 4 p.m.- 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.