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America's Brewpub at
Walter Payton's Roundhouse
On a whim -- after checking out the Metra route to and from the Aurora station
and noticing its proximity to a certain restaurant -- Lauren and I decided to make
stop, at a place that a friend has been raving about for a long
time and urging me to try. Located on the north and eastern side of
the city of Aurora, the venue is located in an old railroad repair shop.
From the website:
"The history of the Aurora
Roundhouse begins in 1856, when
Aurora, Illinois was chosen as the site for a major car building and
repair shop by the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Originally,
twenty-two stalls were built to house and repair locomotives. Eight
additional stalls were added in 1859, and in 1864, the final ten stalls
were added to the Roundhouse, making it a complete circle."
Interested in the only existing limestone roundhouse
in the nation, Walter Payton and his partners in the project were voted in
1995 by the city of Aurora to redevelop the building. Little more than
a year after the vote, the official reopening took place in March of 1996,
and the huge complex now houses -- in addition to the Walter Payton Museum
and a half-dozen or so other attractions -- a rather substantial restaurant
called America's Brewpub ... the subject of this review.
The first thing that struck me was the
difficulty in locating the place, especially at night and for the first
time: approaching from the north, there are three huge buildings that can be
seen on the east side of the street, all of which have giant lettering
proclaiming "Walter Payton's Roundhouse." One of them is a Hotel,
another of which I am unsure and the third -- the actual restaurant
(immediately adjacent to the Metra Station) -- was the most difficult of all
to enter. A very bizarre and almost hidden entrance (the exit is just
as difficult to determine) was eventually discovered and, after several
miscues, we arrived at the
front door just prior to a reservation that Lauren had booked through Open
Table. Upon entering, one is instantly impressed by the cavernous
nature of the place -- the ceilings at least 30 feet above -- and giant
wooden beams all around, proclaiming the artistic and engineering beauty of
The second noticeable accompaniment is the lack of any real
acoustic integrity; the din of conversation echoes throughout the huge hall like
the over-served crowd arriving prior to a Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field.
Probably perfect for a Monday Night Football game or brunch before a game, it's a bit disconcerting
during a dinner, especially when the place was not yet quite half full.
I wondered what a full house would be like...
Many empty tables beckon as we pass them, but the hostess continues on and
we are seated at a small table for two up against the side of a fireplace. In the
tradition of a pub, the
tables are barren, save salt and pepper shakers, an oil candle,
cloth-covered silverware and water glasses. Wait-staff and bus people
seem to be everywhere and we are twice asked if we would like water, but it
is ten minutes or more before a waiter finally appears. I have noticed
that the table next to us, having just received their dinners, seems to be
enjoying a meal of huge proportions and they are making quick work of it.
Lauren responds to a request for a bar order with a
selection of Ravenswood Zinfandel, and I ask for a Stoli. I am told: "We don't carry
it", but Grey Goose is available and that is what I choose. The menu
touts the "casual dining" nature of America's Brewpub and the selections
reinforce the concept. Eleven appetizers include the obligatory fried
calamari, beer battered onion rings and buffalo wings, as well as an
interesting sounding "crab & avocado gazpacho tower with tortilla
triangles". Some of these come in half orders; the average price
of ap's is about $9-$10. There are lunch salads (small) and then there
are big salads -- like the "surf & turf Caesar salad with bacon wrapped
tenderloin, jumbo shrimp scampi, plum tomatoes, Caesar vinaigrette, parmesan
cheese"... at $16 for dinner, that's a big salad!
The lunch sandwich board and lunch Brewpub favorites looked inviting (take,
for instance, the "Cubano with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese & pickles,
grilled on Cuban bread" at $10.99, or the New Orleans Oven Grinder
with salami, prosciutto, morta della and provolone, mozzarella, tomato &
olive salad at $8.99) and the prices were reasonable too -- averaging
about $9. There were even wood-grilled pizzas and some very
tasty-sounding burger selections... but these burgers were only available
Dinner selections included about a half-dozen seafood
selections (four included lobster), another half-dozen "Brewpub favorites"
that included a full slab of ribs ($24), an "Andouille-stuffed
double-cut pork chop wrapped in bacon with pan gravy on herb mashed potatoes"
($18.99) and the exact same "10 oz. roundhouse steakburger caramelized
onions, cheddar cheese & 57 steak sauce, roundhouse made potato chips
that appeared on the lunch menu at $10.99... but it was now priced at
$13.99. There were also "classic dinner steaks from the grill" --
truly Mike Ditka selections -- served in sizes up to 20 oz and ranging in
price from $27 to as much as $52 for the Surf and Turf (12-oz fillet
and lobster tail).
Since we were not especially hungry and did not want an
entire dinner, we opted simply to munch on a half order of calamari and
split the monstrous burger. We also ordered a "kitchen salad with
romaine lettuce, balsamic vinaigrette ($2)". It really was a $2
salad, consisting solely of a few leaves of tired Romaine covered with
dressing. When the calamari arrived about two minutes -- literally --
after our waiter had taken our order, it was served with a half smirk and
what was almost an admonition: "You guys are really lucky... no one
ever gets an order that fast!" Although served in a
plastic basket, the ample portion of squid was tucked into a cloth napkin
and served with a white sauce and a red one; neither was the lemon aioli
that was supposed to accompany the dish.
Our burger, which the waiter was kind enough to split for us
and arrange on separate plates, took much longer to arrive... apparently our
luck had run out. Served on a very white -- aka blah -- bun and cooked
more well-done than ordered, the flavor was nonetheless very good. The
roundhouse-made potato chips were also good but not distinct, as they had no
special seasonings to make them stand out. Lauren ordered a second
glass of wine -- this one served in a different kind of glass (the first was
in a white wine glass; this in a red wine glass) -- and I decided to try the
"sampler' of five different micro brews. My favorite was the stout,
dark and sweet.
Perhaps our evening might not be conceived as a true test of
the full dining experience available -- we didn't order complete dinners --
but I remain convinced that at this restaurant, their forte is mostly on
brew. An interesting menu with an emphasis on spicy, I give America's
Brewpub Three Zins.
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