River Roast Brings Elite Comfort Food to Chicago

River Roast is bringing Sunday dinner back to Chicago diners every night.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

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The minds behind River Roast in Chicago want to bring the concept of Sunday dinner back to the masses at every sitting — and that philosophy made it one of the hottest restaurants in town.

James Beard award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano and Executive Chef John Hogan brought a menu of gourmet comfort food (…They call it contemporary American tavern fare…) served family style for a communal dining experience. The River Roast model plays well in a midwestern hub like Chicago, but anyone from anywhere who enjoys protein cooked to subtle perfection will enjoy their night on the river.

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The restaurant’s charm starts with its elite location along the bustling riverfront in Chicago’s Loop. If you’re visiting in the summer months, sit outside. My companion and I did just that — until a summer sprinkle sent us scrambling, cocktails in hand. Fortunately, the very dedicated and attentive staff was right there on hand to help us get everything inside for our next course.

Those cocktails are fresh and strong, the menu offering up a selection of classics and signature creations. Try the Illegally Smuggling Ginger, the Kobayashi Maru (above) or Hemingway’s Muse – all perfect summer concoctions.

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As for appetizers to compliment the booze, a house specialty is the Slow Ravioli – stuffed with snails, garlic, herbs and tomato confit. They’re also very proud of their Hogan’s Charcuterie (below) and its selection of locally sourced meats prepared in house.

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For the main, the absolute and top-billed star is the River Roast Whole Chicken (bottom). The bird is smoked, then roasted in a sealed oven with 100% humidity — producing meat that is simply flavorful and absolutely “fall off the bone” moist.

Since Sunday dinner is the River Roast theme, I decided to rip a page out of a UK book and go with the beef (top). Less of a traditional slice roast and more of a perfectly prepared tenderloin brought south from a Wisconsin farm, the beef was well complimented by a side of Carrots and Dirt, cooked up with Pumpernickel crumbs, goat cheese and a little balsamic vinegar.

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If there was a quibble with River Roast, it’d be the dessert menu. The options are limited and a little pedestrian when compared to the rest of the brilliantly assembled and presented menu. My chocolate pudding was leaned too far to the bitter and away from the sweet. The Fat Elvis is a cute idea (mixing peanut butter, banana and some of The King’s favorite snacks), but it doesn’t in one dish. Otherwise, the choices are soft serve ice cream and bundt cakes. Not exactly Christmas.

Still, the crowds filling River Roast aren’t there for the after dinner choices. They’re on hand to experience hearty meat and fish around a big table with friends and loved ones. Fortunately, they’ll find their Sunday dinner delicious any night of the week.