Nestled within a formerly industrial section of West Lakeview, now between hastily constructed condos, is the relatively unknown Burgundy Inn. Prior to it being recommended by a colleague, I literally passed by the Burgundy Inn hundreds of times without even noticing it. However, after taking a chance on this charismatic little establishment, the Burgundy Inn has rapidly become one of my favorites, particularly for ribs. For the last 35 years, owner-chef Frank Scoglio has operated this hidden gem and created a neighborhood standout catering to locals and adventurous couples and in doing so, carries on a tradition that started in 1938 that has spanned three locations and two owners.
The Burgundy Inn is located on the west side of Ashland, just south of Four Shadows (formerly Lee’s) on Diversey. The one-story, tan brick façade is only somewhat highlighted by a burgundy-colored awning, befitting its name in white lettering, adorned with blue and green string lights and a couple of beer signs in small front windows. While cabs maybe somewhat difficult to find in this neighborhood, it still beats trying to parallel park on Ashland, not to mention drinking and driving. Once you step through the wood and glass door, you’ll find a smallish room with knotty pine paneling and a rickety wooden floor covered by a thin layer of carpet. A worn wooden bar topped with the finest white linoleum and lined with neighborhood locals runs along the north side of the room, opposite a smattering of red leather booths – each one with an old wooden clock keeping time above it. Additional seating is available at glass topped tables with white tablecloths between the booths and the bar. The room is adorned with multicolored Christmas lights, wine bottles lining the shelves under the front windows, empty beer cartons stacked up below them, and a large cooler next to the door. A dark painted drop ceiling masks the plethora of smoke emitted in this area, as it serves as the smoking section. A second room in the back, just beyond the bar, serves as the non-smoking section and can accommodate reservations, limited to five or more. The waitresses will seat you in this intimate seating area with its additional glass-topped tables and red leather booths if you desire tobacco-free surroundings.
The menu listed on the double-sided menu may be somewhat more limited than what you’re used to, particularly if you dine at a place like Leona’s with its menu-catalog that makes it almost impossible to choose, but it’s sure to have something you’ll really enjoy. Assuming you’re not there just for drinks at the bar, your meal will start out with a bread basket filled with homemade rolls. In addition to the baked delicacies, the chef and owner simply known as “Frank,” also prepares all the dressings, sauces, and soups, such as the New England Clam Chowder. Other starters include calamari, herring in sour cream, chicken liver p?t?, rum-glazed calypso rib tips, shrimp cocktail, and, occasionally, escargot. The main course features seafood specialties like snow crab legs (of rather impressive length), and shrimp served de jonghe, fried and blackened. If you’re not into crustaceans, check out the hand-cut New York sirloin, filet mignon, pork chops, and prime rib every Friday and Saturday (which typically sells out by 9:00 p.m.). Better yet, try what’s billed as the “town’s best ribs.” In my opinion, these baby back ribs are marvelous. The meat is tender, of very good quality (little fat or gristle) and Frank’s “Special Sauce” was spanking gorgeous. Frank knows how to prepare a sauce that is thick and tasty, without going overboard or making it too vinegary. In fact, I would say that these ribs would give Twin Anchors, Bone Daddy (now defunct), Carson’s Ribs, Miller’s Pub, and Smoke Daddy a run for their money as best in Chicago. Specialty dishes include the Duck a la Megan (smoked for five hours with a homemade plum sauce and stuffing), linguini marinara, calf livers, half chickens, fettuccini alfredo, and a variety of steak and seafood combinations. What to choose? It’s tough. However, take note: the regulars suggest that if Frank is cooking, don’t order yourself – just ask him to pick out whatever he enjoys cooking that night. Each entr?e comes with a side salad, which is best with the house Italian over the somewhat bland and runny bleu cheese, and prices range between $15 and $25. On Mondays and Tuesdays, dinner is two-for-the-price-of-one with a coupon obtained by eating at the Burgundy Inn on another night. Everything served at the Burgundy Inn is carefully prepared, is very good and goes delightfully well with their selection of beaujolais, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chianti, pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, champagne, cognac, port, and sherry. Beer lovers will appreciate the availability of Warsteiner, Old Style, and ten other domestic and imported brews.
All of the above is even more enjoyable considering the excellent service. One night, I had a red-haired waitress who let me try the herring in sour cream sauce without paying for it and, perhaps sensing what she was up against, gave me plenty of wet-naps so that I could mop up after the ribs. She was prompt and courteous in every way and even downright friendly. The busboy was attentive without overdoing it, like at bw-3 for example where they are brow-beaten by management into hovering in corners and pouncing on glasses and plates when it looks like you’re somewhere remotely close to being finished. I’ve had glasses whisked away within a second of placing them on the table, sometimes even when they’ve had a few ounces of precious Budweiser left in them. In addition, the busboy at the Burgundy Inn spoke English and was even able to take a coffee order. Unique indeed.
Personally, I debated for sometime as to whether or not to write a review on the Burgundy Inn. The establishment initially seems more like a restaurant than a bar because of its unique and high-quality selection of food, top-notch service and dining environment. However, given the atmosphere and the semi-crusty neighborhood regulars downing domestic longnecks at the bar, I’ve realized that the Burgundy Inn is one of those old-school bar and restaurant hybrids known as the “supper club,” similar to those which are still enormously popular in Wisconsin. Regardless of what you might say about the Cheeseheads, one can easily see the appeal of the supper club: warmth without pretension, excellent food without exorbitant prices, a retro atmosphere bordering on being funky, and a crowd consisting of people of all ages not bashful about flagrantly ignoring their cholesterol levels while putting away several Manhattans, a couple bottles of wine, or a sixer to boot. Indeed, black leather and attitude are not found at the Burgundy Inn – kind of like an upscale version of Will’s Northwoods. Even so, the Burgundy Inn has somehow eluded Zagat’s, which they will someday realize is an egregious omission. After a fine meal and a few drinks at the Burgundy Inn, you can head up the block to Lee’s or Raymond’s to get your fix of darts, Golden Tee, pool, and Tecate served in the can. Brilliant. The Burgundy Inn has been around since 1938 with two owners and three locations but, according to Ruth Cropper’s recent posting on Metromix, “The owner is 68 and probably won’t be renewing his lease in five years, so eat there now before it’s too late!” Wise words, indeed. Well done, Frank.