I kept thinking we’d walked into a Cheers-like friendly-but-with-wonderful-food tavern as we sat down cozily for a recent dinner in this nautically themed South Loop eatery. Owner Mark Stern, whom you’re likely to find there almost any time you visit, was a warm and friendly host to all his customers. He’s happy to talk with you about how the WeatherMark Tavern, 1503 S. Michigan, got started – and particularly about its newly expanded menu. Look to be surprised by the unique food combinations - , the creativity of many menu items, and a stretch-your-mind list of interesting things to drink – including 45 different rums!
Customers have a ton of new options that go well beyond the good-bar-food concept. If you like your food hot/spicy, for example, they’ve got their own spicy version of a bratwurst ($9.95), complete with homemade sauerkraut and fries with their homemade habanero salt (also available on request on fries or any other dish you want to spice up). More on the new menu below.
Upon entering through the light-bedecked street front you find a large, open, hardwood-floored space punctuated on one wall with mock sails. The sails carry out the tavern’s boat/harbor theme nicely, projecting from the walls and separating cozy, comfortable seating areas. Even the candles on the tables sport sail-shaped glass. The large windows at the front of the restaurant let the early-winter-lit Chicago evening in, and the interior lighting is subdued – I love it like that! – yet bright enough to read your menu, work (free Wi-Fi) or people-watch your fellow diners if you’re so inclined.
Any given lunch or dinner you might see captains eating and drinking here – captains of industry as well as captains of luxury yachts in Chicago’s harbor. Or folks from the museums (they’re minutes from the Field Museum) or from McCormick Place events. And you’ll always find denizens of South Loop and surrounding areas. Unlike many places, WeatherMark was open for business during the recent NATO conference. Both the hours of business and the attitude of the staff makes you feel like they’re all about being there for you whenever you’re hungry or thirsty.
Though you may see a number of people bent intently over their laptops, the WeatherMark is also a comfortably family-friendly place. Mark said they found out by accident that kids could draw on their tabletops with chalk. So now they provide a bucket of chalks and an eraser for kids – or for grownups in a fun mood. Plus, they have a kids’ menu with every kid-trusted item under 5 bucks (except the one-topping pizza at $5.95)
My companion and I took our server’s recommendation to start with the Tavern’s own take on the “pigs-in-a-blanket” appetizer idea. What a pleasing surprise! Wrappers were made of deliciously buttery and flaky pastry, and the meats included venison sausage and wild boar. The venison was surprisingly good, and the wild boar was really good with a rich, meaty flavor unlike anything I’d tried before. DO try this appetizer when you go. Vegetarians, they’ve got your back, too – read on.
Our second appetizer was the vegetarian Stuffed Mushrooms. The mushroom caps sat in a thick, rich, creamy and Cheddar-y fondue that went great with lots of yeasty, crusty French bread slices. The breadcrumb-only stuffing itself wasn’t a favorite, but the non-veg sausage and spinach filling sounds excellent. Other appetizers include Trio of Skewers (Asian beef, Southwest chicken, and Vegetable – sub one or both meats with sweet or spicy tofu).
For entrees my companion chose the filet mignon ($25.95) with port wine reduction, asparagus and potato spring roll (like a twice-baked potato stuffed in a crispy, hollowed-out chunk of bread). The cooked-to-perfection filet rivaled the quality those in any big steak house, and the asparagus was beautifully crisp-tender. My main course was tasty – the blackened tuna sandwich was drizzled with lime sour cream sauce and served with a side of steak fries. Next time I think I’ll ask for extra sauce!
Our server recommended a beer and a dry red wine that went beautifully with our food. Owner Mark told us about his carefully chosen collection of more than 45 different rums. I was amazed to find out this liquor goes WAY beyond something you stick in a cola because it’s summer. Did you know that there are XO versions of certain rums, just like fine cognacs? I didn’t. We tried a couple of them – what a delicious after-dinner drink!
More on the new menu. They’ve held onto customer favorites like homemade soup (chicken risotto) and chili ($4.50 cup, $6.00 bowl, beef, grilled or blackened chicken or vegetarian options) and a good selection of traditional salads ($8 - $11). For two-fifty to 5 bucks you can add shrimp, salmon, steak of grilled chicken to any salad (Caesar, Greek, Nicoise, Spinach, etc.).
Look at these interesting choices for burgers (turkey, chili, mushroom, pulled pork, corned-beef-and-sauerkraut, and their signature double-bacon-cheese). Sandwiches now include Italian beef, steak or chicken Philly, shrimp Po’Boy, brat, meatball, Reuben and more. Lighter wraps include fish tacos, vegetarian (avocado), taco salad and Buffalo chicken Caesar). All sandwiches and burgers include pickle, and choice of steak or sweet potato fries, or for a buck you can sub rice, soup, Tater Tots, side salad, fruit or veggies.
And listen to these 12-inch, 8-piece pizza options ($13 - $16): Hunter is graced with that delicious venison sausage and wild boar meat I mentioned earlier along with Portobello mushrooms. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. There’s also Surf & Turf – shrimp and sausage and boar atop a traditional mozzarella and sauce base. Other types include meatball, BBQ pork or crispy chicken, Margherita basil and California Dreaming – no sauce, mozzarella, avocado, bacon, tomato and spinach. Num!
They do a Friday fish fry – unlimited rum-battered fish and chips – for $9.95. And if you're looking for a fun place to do a New Year’s Eve party WeatherMark is at your service – $75 for unlimited wine, beer and cocktails made with well and call liquor options like Stoli, Absolute, Tanqueray, Jack Daniels and so on. Cash bar is available if you want top shelf stuff.
Their New Year's day brunch this year features some fabulous items like Egg Quesadilla, scrambled eggs in tortillas with salsa and sour cream ($7.50); Belgian waffles with sausage, battered and fried and served with house potatoes and fruit ($9.95); pick-your-own-two-fillings frittatas ($8.95 and up for extra fillings) and a lot more, plus a kids' menu and bottomless mimosas ($13.95) and $5 Bloody Marys. I think I'll see you there! " )
WeatherMark is open for lunch, dinner and late night (kitchen open ‘til midnight every night) every day of the week, they offer brunch 10:30 to 3 pm every Saturday and Sunday. I’m betting that after you’ve been there once or twice, everybody will know your name.