These days, restaurants in the North Loop seem to open as frequently as my garage door. This one, however, is bigger — and better — than many.
It’s called Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar (location, location).
Nolo’s occupies a former hardware building stylishly reconfigured in white, from shiny, well-spaced tabletops to entry tiles to a lofty ceiling mellowed by schoolhouse lights. Plate glass windows frame the sidewalk, leading to a generous circular bar backed by a demo kitchen — all working together to create a warm and inviting atmosphere.
Same goes for the menu, featuring, as it rightly claims, food your grandmother can pronounce. Oh, sure, the Influencers are here, sipping their craft cocktails, but so is the architect talking business at the next table and the boomers from Chanhassen, claiming that the worth-the-drive fries are even better than the Monte Carlo’s.
“Comfort All Day Long …” heralds the menu, which — truth in advertising — leads off with egg salad and spreadable toasts (white from Turtle Bread, which Grandma — and the rest of us — can endorse). The generously mounded chopped eggs are visited — but just barely, a courtesy call — by a topping of minced prosciutto and crispy onions, plus the sweet pickle and paprika that doll up Granny’s swear-by recipe.
It’s good — mighty good — but Norwegian-bland. More pickle juice, maybe? Dill? Or a daring dash of black pepper?
Walleye fingers, another star of the snack listing ($9–$13, meant for sharing), recall those ’50s frozen fish sticks, but a million times better: thick, moist slices in a light, light crumb coating, sided with a tasty, creamy almond gremolata instead of tartar sauce — plus a delicious, almost candy-like grilled lemon.
Then, the avocado spread, served with grilled focaccia topped with a bright mélange of marinated tomatoes. The lemony avocado mash incorporates roasted garlic and hearts of palm, further greened by strands of curly-leaf spinach, which add a dining challenge (try dealing with those dangling fronds in front of your date) if not a flavor upgrade.
The Caesar’s been tweaked, too. It’s composed of kale tossed with bits of grilled cauliflower — a tasty touch — robust, chewy croutons, leaves of (way too) mild cheese and roasted shallots in a (frankly) wimpy, forgot-the-Parm-and-garlic Caesar dressing. It’s pretty enough for Instagramming and generously feeds four (salads $7–$13).
As well as flatbreads and sandwiches, the menu features mains (most $15–$27) ranging from an Italian-inspired veggie hot dish to cedar-planked salmon, chicken with popcorn grits and, my choice, porchetta: an understatement that provided a juicy, plate-lapping slab of pork loin edged in crackly, blessedly fatty pork belly, all sweetened by cider jus that also laps rounds of fingerlings. A salad of tart apple matchsticks tossed with feta adds vital balance.
Well, what about dessert, you clamor? Not to worry.
My neighbors’ soft-serve sundae, served in a classic drugstore tulip glass, won their thumbs-up. For me: milk and cookies.
Make that cookies divine, for those moist, chewy, well-packed rounds featured peanut butter, chocolate and (yes) crumbled pretzels. Or order doughnut holes, recommended by my polished, friendly server as I sipped the last of my Harujuko cocktail, favoring Japanese whisky. There’s also a short wine list and longer listing of draft beers.
Then (or next time) find your way down to the aptly named Basement Bar for live music and eats from a built-in “food truck.” Something for everyone, right?
Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar
515 Washington Ave. N.