River Roast: Where It's Always Sunday

Remember Sunday dinner… the one time all week when the entire family sat down to a home cooked meal? Maybe not, but River Roast will make you wish you did.

The game plan is relatively simple. Managing partner Tony Mantuano and executive chef John Hogan have pooled their considerable talent to create a menu centered on four different roasts: chicken, fish, beef and pork. All of the options come with crusty roasted potatoes, the kind Grandma used to make, provided Grandma was a really good cook. The rest of the menu focuses on sides, starters, and snacks. And then there’s dessert, a category that includes a knock-out lemon trifle and an ever-changing soft serve.

The whole roast thing sounds deceptively simple, but it’s actually a lot harder to pull off than you think. Remember, no one wants to wait an hour or so for their dinner to cook. And, at the same time, no one wants to eat a roast that’s been cooked and then reheated.

According to Tony Mantuano-and he should know- first timers usually order the chicken. It’s stuffed with fresh herbs, seasoned with salt and pepper, cold smoked for twenty minutes, and then roasted at a high temperature in a high humidity oven for 24 minutes.

What’s especially interesting is that the chicken is cooked upside down in a vertical position. Imagine a beer can chicken only reversed. Done this way, the juices flow over the breasts and keep them moist. In the end, the juices mingle with the potatoes clustered around the bottom of the chicken. The chickens are carved tableside, a bit of showmanship that still works.

The fish is served whole and boned with the head and tail intact. It can be ordered either fried or cooked in a tandoori-style oven. Choose the latter, and the skin will have a nice char. Like the chicken, the fish is designed to serve two people. So is the pork, a 26-ounce rack (cooked weight) that’s smoked and then finished in the restaurant’s brick oven. As for the New York sirloin, it’s slow-roasted overnight and then, like the pork, finished in the brick oven.

Ask John Hogan-and he should know- how he gets the potatoes so crispy, and he’ll tell you that they’re cooked twice. Chances are you’ll find them addictive; they’re that good. So are “Hogan’s Peas,” a mix of peas, bacon and pearl onions nestled in a perfectly seasoned cream sauce. New for fall are the oven roasted Brussels sprouts and root vegetables.

If you’re dining with a group, think about ordering lots of starters and sides and splitting the roast three ways. A group of very small women with equally small appetites could possibly divide the chicken four ways, but it would be a stretch.

The country fried rabbit is tasty, albeit difficult to split. Hogan is especially enthusiastic about the charcuterie and the chicken gobbets (he refers to them as “little nuggets of gold”) seasoned with “13 herbs and spices,” and he should know. Should the local tomatoes still be on the menu, consider them a “must.”

As for the soft serve, don’t expect chocolate or vanilla. The flavor changes daily, and there’s a good chance it won’t be anything you’ve ever had before or even thought about having. Opt for the lemon trifle, and you’ll wonder why people make such a fuss about chocolate.

I haven’t talked about the restaurant’s knock-out location on the Chicago River, or the terrace overlooking the river, or the view of the city because we’re heading into winter. Better to focus on the live blues on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 pm. Expect them, even in January.

River Roast, 315 N. La Salle St. 312.822-0100
Dinner nightly, lunch on weekdays, brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

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