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CHICAGO, Ill. -- The newest restaurant addition to the Pilsen neighborhood is Monnie Burke's, a four-month-old charmer with a sedate, dark-wood and green dining room and a long, polished-wood bar.
This summer, however, all the action is outside, as Monnie Burke's has one of the most appealing outdoor courtyards in the city, replete with umbrella-topped tables, string lights, a sheltered outdoor bar and, for chilly nights, a gas-powered fire pit.
Michael Shrader, a veteran Chicago chef, runs the kitchen, and his main goal is to keep things approachable and neighborhood-friendly.
For starters, there's a hearty Kitchen Sink salad, a variation on the classic Chicago garbage salad, a mix of greens with shrimp, salami, pepperoncini, blue cheese and garlic dressing. Tender octopus is tossed with shishito peppers and an 'nduja vinaigrette, which adds a punch, and the bowl is painted with black-garlic puree. And Shrader ups the ante on avocado toast by adding liberal doses of crab and yuzu over toasted ciabatta.
Faroe Island salmon gets a very pretty presentation, picking up color from tomatoes, capers and microgreens. Duck breast, meaty enough to share, features thick slices glistening under a cherry glaze, alongside mushrooms and cipollini-onion puree. The braised pork shank is essentially a re-imagined osso buco, using pork instead of veal, cheese grits instead of polenta and spicy vegetable chow chow instead of gremolata; it's really good.
Desserts are based on Shrader's childhood memory, particularly store-bought sweets. The gloriously gooey chocolate fudge brownie is topped by Cracker Jack, right out of the box, and the very good Key lime trifle is inlaid with Nilla wafers.
I give Monnie Burke's three stars.