A few months ago a great friend from Dallas sent a note to me via Facebook about a British public house in Chicago. As I only received a link to the website, I imagined that the restaurant had caught my friend’s attention after being featured in an article or on a show. Turns out that this particular eatery had been featured on a segment of Check Please! Well, well, well. The manager of any restaurant in the Chicago metropolitan area on the verge of a swift death should beg, plead, snivel, make promises, and put on performances to get on Check Please! for a revitalization of its business. But Pleasant House Bakery at 964 W. 31st Street is relatively new and a feature segment on Check Please! would no doubt make it skyrocket. Tucked in the middle of the Bridgeport neighbourhood, which is undergoing a change due to gentrification, this eatery/bakery does a fantastic job of leaving those of us with British grounding and British leanings missing that little old isle.
A staple on the menu is the royal pie. In America, there are customary pot pies that can be large and hearty, with fillings much like stews. Royal pies are smaller and less filling. Therefore, you enjoy the pie without falling prey to food comatose thereafter. I started with a steak and ale pie, which is definitely a must-have on the isle and off the isle. Because my diet is primarily pescatarian, meat is not something I indulge every time the whim strikes a note with me. Steak and ale has steak in it, of course, and Pleasant House Bakery uses all-natural beef instead of meat riddled with additives, growth products, and other non-organic not-so-goods. Also added are slices of carrots in a gravy made of an ale that you can actually taste. No, to all the alcoholics and those who have recently turned twenty-one, you will not get drunk from the ale in the royal pie. I had spuds as an accompanying side order with a red wine gravy. And these spuds, or rather potatoes, were not made from powder. There was no from-the-box aftertaste to give them away.
I should have stopped at the steak and ale pie. No, I just had to have the chicken balti pie. I had to have more meat. I had to give in to the delectable taste and succumb to my addiction. The chicken balti pie was absolutely incredible, in all caps. Again, there is the pie with a flaky and rather flavourful crust, nothing like the Swanson’s frozen treats from the local market. Just like the steak and ale pie, the chicken balti pie’s crust was like that of a pastry. Think a more solid, yet fresh, croissant. All-natural chicken, not the danger chickens that have been enhanced for quick distribution, in fresh-ground curry spices with tomato and Nigella seeds completed the wonderful pie that I polished off with flourish. To add a hint of Indian dining to the mix, there was some coriander chutney that I had for dipping. Wow. Again, I had spuds with the red wine gravy, and I also had English peas buttered with mint. There was a break in the clouds and a ray of light shined upon my table, illuminating the glass of ginger soda — oh how I love home-made ginger soda — that I drank in between heavy sighs of food bliss.
Late last year, I had found out that I needed to be more careful with my sugar and carbohydrate intake. So, I had taken sugar out of my diet, full stop, not quite overzealous enough to eliminate bread in the same manner. Things are better now and I will indulge a sweet every once in a while, in moderation, of course. Because I have been good, I allowed myself a bowl of trifle. You simply do not have to be fancy with custard, apples, sponge cake, and whipped cream. However, a parfait of it goes over so well, so very well, so incredibly well. Fresh? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Would I have some more? Yes, it goes without saying. While some restaurants and even some bakeries could have too much sugar in the recipe, the sweetness of the apples — that were not doused in syrup, thank God — and the lightness of the sponge cake leave you with a dessert that does not have your doctor screaming, Alas! Along with the trifle, I took a cup of coffee with thick cream that resulted in me not needing any sugar. I was completely sated after I was done.
Usually when restaurants try to include British cuisine on its menu, the attempt wows in the naming convention of certain menu items, but the output splashes. Pleasant House Bakery shines. I shall warn you that because the food is absolutely fantastic, the eatery fills up quickly. Get there early, be prepared for a wait because the establishment is small and quaint, or be okay with ordering something for take-away. Whoever started the restaurant apparently went to the United Kingdom and went to some eateries way out in the country where you indeed get some of the best royal pies there are to be had. It is also obvious in the minimalist atmosphere the restaurant exudes. I got a breeze of Cardiff, a whiff of Ipswich, a hint of New Castle on Tyne, the smiles of Peterborough. My visits to London, Bromley to be more specific, may not be all that frequent. But in the meantime, I will gladly make the dash over to Pleasant House Bakery for a taste of the old country.