For the start of this year’s Restaurant Week, I travelled all the way to The Duck Inn, recipient of a 2016 Bib Gourmand, in Bridgeport. Unlike many restaurants, The Duck Inn doesn’t provide multiple options for most of their Restaurant Week courses – only for the third course. And although the menu seemed rather standard (soup, green salad, pork or chicken for the main course, and crème brûlée for dessert), the food turned out to be interesting and well-executed. The service is also excellent, competent yet warm and welcoming.
The meal starts with a smooth celeriac soup. Celeriac, also known as celery root (although it is not, in fact, the root of celery), has a sharp, distinctive flavor that comes through nicely, since the soup is not especially rich and heavy. I don’t actually taste the blue cheese, which is fine since I’m not a fan of blue cheese, and the delicate chips are a little reminiscent of potato chips. The acidic bits of pickled apple whet the appetite and make it a smart first course.
The next course is a simple salad. While it doesn’t initially seem to be an exciting option, the Duck Inn manages to give it enough of a twist to keep it from being boring. In particular, the nutty, almost savory sweet potato puree beneath the greens in an unexpected addition to a green salad, but it works. The rye berries provide a bit of a chew. The blood orange supremes are sweet, the grapefruit supremes a little more tart. It’s light enough that I would have rather started the meal with it, instead of the soup, but it’s one of the more interesting salads I’ve had in a while.
For my more substantial third course, I chose the pork belly over the crispy chicken thigh prepared with chickpea stew, harissa, winter squash, and yogurt. The Duck Inn knows how to cook pork belly – the meat of it is smoky and porky, but under the sear is a layer of the decadent fat I associate with pork belly. The big heirloom beans maintain their shape, and the wilted kale is juicy and flavorful. Parsnips don’t smash like plantains, so I don’t know if I’d actually call them tostones, but they’ve got nice crispy edges. The dish is perhaps a little salty but still very tasty.
The meal ends with dessert – a crème brûlée garnished with three tangerine segments and a candied slice of kumquat. The thin, crisp layer of brûléed sugar adds a hint of bitterness, and the custard is silky smooth and rich without being excessive. The tangerine gives a bright note, and the slight bitterness of the kumquat skin plays off the bitterness of the burnt sugar. It’s served in a very shallow dish, but I actually like the small portion at the end of the multi-course meal: it’s enough to end on a sweet note without feeling weighed down. It’s not an exciting or particularly inventive dessert, but it is the best crème brûlée I’ve had in ages, and it reminds me just why people eat it in the first place.
The noise level is rather high, but the food is worth the trip, and the service is attentive and genuinely friendly. All in all, my Restaurant Week is off to a fine start with the Duck Inn.
The Duck Inn – 2701 S Eleanor St, Chicago, IL 60608
Theatres Nearby: There aren’t theatres nearby that I visit frequently. However, the Duck Inn is only a few blocks away from the 62 bus, which will drop you off in front of the Goodman Theatre (or a block or two away from the Bank of America, Oriental, and Cadillac Palace Theatres) in about twenty minutes.