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Pleasant House Bakery: Outstanding restaurant
Bad British food is redundant, at least in bars where shepherd's pie competes with Nebraska Cornhuskers football. When Pleasant House Bakery opened in Bridgeport last April, the restaurant introduced a style of English cooking that didn't reference "gastropub."
Workaday British cuisine isn't particularly sexy (a cold pork pie carried in a coal miner's lunch pail), but owners Art and Chelsea Jackson make low-fi chic out of Scotch eggs and Cornish pasties. Their savory "royal pies" are made the laborious way -- that is, by rolling out flour and butter with elbow grease, not defrosting frozen sheets of crusts. Bangers are extruded in-house; mash is mashed by hand. There's an unglamorous honesty to this cooking -- steak and ale pie looks like a stubby cylinder with a mashed potato hat. But break through the buttery thousand-flakes crust, combine with beef chunks, carrots, potatoes and gravy on one fork, and you'll understand why Pleasant House Bakery was one of our favorite restaurants this year.
Expats I know are thankful this restaurant exists. They might not show up every week for afternoon high tea or Sunday roasts, but they find comfort that a piece of Mother England that's not some bastardized, deep-fried interpretation exists in Chicago. For the rest of us, perhaps our lackluster notion of British cooking exists only because no one took the time to show us its potential. We can't say that anymore. 964 W. 31st St.; 773-523-7437 (closed Mondays)
-- Kevin Pang