Keeping it Old School with Atlas Brewing Company
While drinking and dining at Atlas Brewing Company (2747 N. Lincoln Avenue), it’s easy to forget that you are in a modern day brewery. If it weren’t for the immediate view of the stainless steel brewing vats, your first impression may be completely different. The brewpub is softly lit, with a secretive, antique atmosphere reminiscent of an old Chicago speak-easy. Once the beer hits your lips, however, there is no doubt that this place holds a spot among the ever-expanding Chicago brewpubs.
With craft brew invading the entire world, there has to be something that sets the new kids apart from the rest. Opened in July by brother brewers John and Ben Saller, Atlas does craft brew in style – vintage style to be exact. The brewery brought back the name of a traditional Chicago brewery from 1896 that closed after prohibition.
I had the pleasure of dining at Atlas this past week, and being the beer nerd I am, I took a seat at the bar and dove right in. Check out this recent beer list to see what was on tap that evening.
Bonus: They offer 4 oz. pours of everything on tap for $2.50, so of course I tried one of each.
I'm not sure if it's the fall crispness approaching, but the Oktoberfest Marzen was definitely a stand out— perfect amount of caramel sweet with a perfect hop to malt ratio. Another favorite was the Deep End Stout, with a strong roasted coffee aroma I could smell all day and a slight chocolate note at the finish.
The most unique flavor profile goes to the Unfiltered Rye, with a distinct spice flavor from the Rye and a hint of floral hop at the finish. For those hop heads out there, I definitely suggest the High Voltage Single Hop over the Hyperion Double IPA. The single hop has more of a dominant hop flavor (hello, Galaxy hops) while the double tastes extra malty.
As expected, every new brewery is going to have some kinks to work out, but the key is to not compromise. John Saller, one half of the brewing brothers, was standing at the bar during my visit and offered some insight into the brewery's Diversey Pale Ale. “We didn’t quite get enough citrus the first time,” Saller said, “So, we kept trying.” What resulted was a unique beer with a citrus hop profile somewhere in between an American Pale Ale and India Pale Ale. It’s commendable when brewers can recognize what is wrong with a brew and keep working until its perfect, no matter how long that may take.
Of course, who can drink beer without immediately considering their food options? Chef Joseph Pierro (Red Canary, Henri) puts a unique twist on standard beer pairing cuisine. The emphasis lands on rich, flavorful meats in the form of small plates, sandwiches and stand-alone entrees.
The fresh daily P.E.I. mussels, offered in four different varieties, have been getting a lot of hype. The hype is real – this was my favorite dish I tried. I ordered the traditional style which was accompanied by a light, creamy white wine sauce. The Alfredo-esque sauce stole the show, and I had to order more bread so I could devour every last bit. I ate this while drinking the Demeter Belgian Wit, and the light citrus flavor complimented the dish entirely. Who doesn’t like to squeeze a little lemon on their seafood?
Another favorite was the Pork Rillettes. The fatty, smoky flavor of the pork was paired perfectly with the rich creaminess of goat cheese. Served on a buttery, crispy crostini and you basically have perfection. Try this dish with the unique spice flavor of the Unfiltered Rye, which adds a little something-something to the pork. I also tried the salad pizza, which is romaine lettuce, goat cheese, onion marmalade and black pepper balsamic sauce on a thin crust. This, along with the beet salad, was delicious yet incredibly light. Basically any beer overpowered the flavor.
Plus points get added on for wonderful presentation. Every dish that came out was plated beautifully (one could even say Instagram worthy) and it is obvious how much pride the kitchen takes in the cuisine. On top of the presentation, service was more than satisfactory. I felt as though every person I talked to was someone I would like to sit and drink a beer with. The staff was accommodating, personable and beyond knowledgeable about their product.
Morale of the story: when it comes to Chicago craft brewpubs, Atlas Brewing Company won’t get lost among the crowd. Impressively unique brews, well-presented delicious grub and a staff that can hang with the geekiest of the beer geeks, all set among a vintage, luminescent back drop. No one should be keeping this a secret.