Gino’s East recently opened a new “neighborhood” version of their popular pizza chain at 500 North LaSalle. The historic LaSalle Street Cable Car Powerhouse building (formerly Michael Jordan’s first restaurant and Lalo’s), boasts three floors of dining and group entertainment options, and will soon have its own in-house microbrewery.
That last tidbit is what made me say yes to an invitation for lunch. Turns out, there’s plenty more to dish…
Though I especially love the crust at Gino’s East, I knew a deep dish pizza would be too much for me to handle on my own. I was also too hungry to wait 45 minutes for my current fav, The Chicago Fire Pizza.
The waitstaff helped by serving house favorites off the lunch menu, starting with the minestrone soup. Though a few slurps tasted great, and a zing of basil pesto added zest, the Gino’s version couldn’t overcome mushy veggies and salty broth. Not the best start.
The smoked salmon served on grilled points with a dollop of caramelized onion dip and sprinkling of scallions, however, was mouth-watering good. It’s sized more for three or four people to share — I confess I may have eaten more than I should.
When they brought out the Black Kale Harvest Salad, I knew I would be in danger of stuffing myself silly. With a great balance of salty Stilton, figs and candied walnuts, and sour pickled apples, this harmonious salad was improved by slightly blanching the kale leaves. Raw kale can be work to chew, so I appreciated the extra effort. I felt healthy and virtuous for eating my leafy greens. Go me!
The Main Dish
The bar downstairs has a view into the micro-brewery, with room for maybe six or eight tanks. The plan is to create brews that compliment the menu and give customers a complete dining experience. Management hinted at Gino’s East involvement with the upcoming Chicago Craft Brew Week and potential collaboration with 5 Rabbit for the event. However, they were mum on who they were bringing in to run their micro-brewery or if they would have beers available before the end of May. More to come.
The current draft and bottle selection includes choices beyond the usual with Revolution, Metropolitan, and 5 Rabbit making appearances. Gino’s East also hosts tap takeovers and hosts beer events, making it an appealing spot to broaden my hoppy horizons while watching a game. I tried the Schmetterling Gose from Local Option — the sour cut through and balanced the heavier dishes. A great recommendation from the staff, thanks!
Lunch continued with a massive Herb Grilled Chicken Panini served with truffle fries. I have a chronic fear of dry, rubbery birds, so I’m not normally a fan of chicken sandwiches. But this? This was pretty awesome. The chicken was very moist, with an extra buffer of mozzarella and aioli between it and the crunchy panini. A few fries were all it took to complete the meal, but they threw in a few dozen extra for good measure.
The Big Finish
The desserts at Gino’s East are from local favorite, Sweet Mandy B’s. Since the polar vortex put a kibosh on my will to tromp around for great baked goods, I was delighted to see them on the menu.
The Vanilla Cupcake couldn’t have been better. Order it if you go — it’s worth the calories.
As an extra added incentive to hit the gym, I also tried the Peanut Butter Fudge Rice Crispy Treats — perfectly crunchy with a layer of chocolate amazement. If you haven’t been to Sweet Mandy B’s, Gino’s makes it easy to round-out your Chicago bakery experience without hauling across the Depaul campus.
If you need a quick spot for lunch, consider ordering beyond the pizza at the new Gino’s East. There are a range of choices between healthy to decadent that are sure to fill the lunch-shaped hole in your day. I know I’ll be back.