Behind the Green Door

One of Chicago's oldest bars gets an update

The Green Door Tavern is delightfully off-kilter.

We mean that literally: The building it's housed in is so old that it leans to the side. Inside, the restaurant that lays claim to being "Chicago's Oldest Tavern" (based on the age of the building; the actual bar has been open since 1921) is covered in antique bric-a-brac, like old beer signs and mounted animal heads.

The interior of Green Door Tavern

One thing that isn't askew? The menu. Chef Dirk Flanigan, a pioneer of gastropub food in Chicago (The Gage, Henri) stepped up to the challenge of giving the whole menu a face-lift. Now it lives up to the quirky but charming space.

"What really sold me was the history," Flanigan says. "You always run a risk of offending regulars; you know, 'Why did you take my mini-corn dogs off?'"

Flanigan kept the menu bar-appropriate with lots of savory snacks (and not an ounce of foie or foam), but ramped it way up. A scotch egg ($8) is wrapped in homemade sausage. Tender lamb scrumpets ($8) are made with braised lamb necks flavored with herbs and garlic. The venison sloppy joe ($5) is so good you won't mind the meat oozing out onto your shirtfront as you eat.

But the best new dish is the crispy beef sandwich ($12) made with grass-fed beef belly. Flanigan roasts the meat for five hours; just before serving, the beef is shredded and crisped on the flat top. It's then piled onto a pretzel roll with Havarti and horseradish sauce.

"It's like a confit sandwich," he says. It's also one of the best sandwiches we've ever had.