Firkin is tucked in to quaint, “Mayberry like” downtown Libertyville. It’s located next to its sister restaurant The Tavern.
Manager Tom Olsen warmly greeted me and Giles from the Great American Cheese Collection. Giles had been selling Tom cheese for many years and they had yet to meet.
Although Firkin has received a lot of attention for it’s deep collection of beer and vodkas (10 Best Suburban Bars, 50 Best Beer Bars), I was there to check out their food. I would call this a bar and restaurant where the food has equal footing with the liquor. And we can’t say that about many bar/restaurant combinations.
How can I judge it as such? For one, it’s a “scratch” kitchen (they don’t purchase their food pre-made, except for some dessert offerings. They also source ingredients locally (a local farm for a new upcoming burger, the local farmers markets). To top that off, they are sourcing “best in class” ingredients like Giles cheese and Nueske applewood smoked bacon. I embarrassed myself once at the fancy food show by eating all the smoked bacon samples from Nueske. It’s just really good stuff. They also use Boars Head meats in their sandwich offerings.
And, finally this: Giles had a side sample of their coleslaw. I love to try coleslaw from a variety of places and think that if a chef really cares about the taste of the coleslaw, well – they care about everything. And, I was happily surprised. The coleslaw piqued my taste buds with sweet (a touch of honey), spice, vinegar. There was “stuff” going on. Tom said he’s “been working on it” for weeks just to get the right blend. I love that!
On this afternoon, we started by sampling the warmed goat cheese in a roasted tomato sauce. The dish (in general) reminded me of a common tapas dish. The tomato sauce had an inspiring kick and a deep tomato flavor. It was just right. Then, the heat was comforted by that warm, mellow goat cheese. Fire, comfort, creamy texture. I would eat this every day.
We moved to the Queso Fundido appetizer with rock shrimp, bay scallops and Chihuahua cheese. So, in my mind, I was still picturing the taste of a typical queso fundido with chorizo. This had seafood that stood up for itself intermingled with that warm stringy cheese and a nice broth on the bottom. There are many who say cheese and seafood don’t belong together, but I believe they do!
Firkin’s whole menu is very eclectic and anyone should be able to find something to warm their belly. They have wings, pizza, quesadillas, baked escargot, fried asparagus, welsch caerphilly, warm sourdough pretzel’s. Doesn’t it all make sense?
We moved on to entrée’s. I sampled their bbq pork (suggested by Tom’s wife). I asked before ordering whether this swung sweet or savory. Tom said “yes, all of that and some spice.” He was not kidding. I’ve never tasted pork dressed this way. It was Thai flavored and hit all taste combinations in my mouth. It’s served with cool, seasoned- just-right garlic mashed potatoes with sautéed peppers and onions.
I spotted some potatoes with blue cheese on the menu and asked for a side of them. I died and went to heaven. The potatoes were thin sliced and cooked in balsamic and seasoned. They were topped with melted blue cheese. In that moment (and the next day!), it was the best thing I ever ate. The tanginess of the cheese, the soft comfort of the potatoes – just great bar food to sop up the booze. I wasn’t sopping on this afternoon, but that would be a great way to use this dish. There may have been other ingredients involved. I am not sure I could duplicate this dish. However, Tom – if you are out there reading this – please don’t take this off the menu!
Giles sampled their Tallgrass burger (grass fed, hormone free) with slices of his Laack Brother’s aged white cheddar (which Tom highly recommends for a burger) medium rare. It was gone and part of a second in no time.
Firkin honors all holidays; we were just coming off Mardi Gras and they’ve started moving into St. Patrick’s day. The chef adds holiday authentic dishes.
Next up: the menu is being re-configured. Some of the classics will stay, but they are changing it up quite a bit. The menu will also include beer parings so you’ll know what beer tastes best with each entrée. They will continue to tell their patrons where they source their great ingredients and will continue to “evolve” dishes to make them better and better.
I have to include a section about the beer. If you are a beer connoisseur and have not made a visit to Firkin, the time is now. They have Trappist Ales, Belgium offerings, Lambic, beers from England, Canada, and Germany to name a few. They even have a gluten free beer!
Just a few more beers I’ve never heard of include such great names as Surly Furious, Kasteel Rouge, Trumer Pils, Mighty Arrow, Hairy Eyeball, Choklat and Supper Club.
Drive on down or up to Libertyville to eat the food and drink the beer at Firkin. I guarantee you will find something here you’ve never had before that will become a favorite.
515 N. Milwaukee Ave
Libertyville, IL 60048