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August 18, 2016

Reviving Loop Lunch

By Jillian Schwartz

Well, I tried it. I have been following the news stories surrounding the opening of the new food hall, Revival, at 125 S Clark and have gotten increasingly antsy about the opening. A chance to try those neighborhood restaurants that are usually just a smidge too far out of the way? I was in.

The game plan: scout out the restaurant options before showing up so I would know exactly what to get. Show up early. Get the food, sit down long enough to take in the environment (and the food of course) and head back to work. Zip Zap Zoom.

It went only slightly according to plan: I got there early(ish). Luckily this was the line as I was leaving.

Line out the door for Revival

Line out the door for Revival

I strolled into the doors at 11 a.m. The outside of the building didn’t have any flashing “Revival” signs, but once inside the space, it was sensory-encompassing. Hundreds of clear, bubble-like lights suspend from the ceiling making the 24,000 SF open space feel far more intimate than a traditional food court. Different ceiling heights and textures, columns, and wooden tables made the space feel cozy and warm while still light and open.

Ambience score: 9/10

Inside Revival Food Hall

Inside Revival Food Hall

Inside Revival

Inside Revival

As I walked further inside, the lunch rush was just starting, the lines beginning to form. I knew the restaurants that would be there–Graze Kitchenette, Danke, The Budlong (for a limited time), Aloha Poke, Brown Bag Seafood Co., Smoque BBQ, Furious Spoon, Antique Taco, Union Pizzeria, Black Dog Gelato, The Fat Shallot, and Mindy’s Hot Chocolate–but I still took about 3 laps around looking at each menu, unable to decide.

The menus are smaller than at the original locations but offer some of the fan favorites. There are enough of options, though, to give you the feel of the restaurant.

The lines stacked up quickly at the especially popular spots: Aloha Poke, Smoque BBQ, The Budlong, and Antique Taco.

Revival Food Hall line for Smoque BBQ

Revival Food Hall line for Smoque BBQ

After some stressful last-minute line changes, I finally settled on Antique Taco. They have a location in Wicker Park that I still haven’t gotten to visit, so I was happy to see them pop up in the Loop. I jumped in line before my grumbling stomach started to out-do the overhead music.

Here’s the thing: it was the first day. I certainly didn’t expect everything to run 100% smoothly and I know there are still some wrinkles to be ironed out. That being said, I was waiting in line for about 25 minutes before I was able to order. As someone who cringes at the Chipotle lunch lines, it felt like ages.

I went with the Pork Carnitas tacos–you get two for $9–and grabbed my buzzer. About 5 minutes later, I was buzzed up to the bustling counter where I picked it up. For how quickly they move, I was impressed by the presentation. Check it out:

Pork Carnitas tacos from Antique Taco at Revival

Pork Carnitas tacos from Antique Taco at Revival. $9

The tacos were tasty and definitely fresh–the meat sweet yet savory, a slice of avocado and bacon on each added different notes of texture, and lucky for me, it wasn’t spicy at all.

For dessert, I skipped the Bang Bang Pie Shop Key Lime Pie option at Antique Taco and headed to Black Dog Gelato for something a little different. The selection of flavors isn’t huge, but they are definitely unique; goat cheese in ice cream??

Black Dog Gelato flavors

Black Dog Gelato flavors

After a few samples, I chose Pineapple Basil sorbet and Olive Oil Almond. I know how that sounds, and I admit right now that the one mistake I made was getting those two flavors together. Something about Thursday made me step out of my comfort zone, I guess.

Turns out, Olive Oil Gelato should definitely be a thing. It was smooth, creamy, and tasted a bit like French Silk Pie, in my opinion. There was a tinge of saltiness that had me teetering between “like it” and “love it” so I’ll compromise at “like it a lot”.

The Pineapple Basil flavor was light, sweet, fruity and refreshing; it reminded me of a summery Mojito. 10/10 would order again.

My only “Sad face” about Black Dog Gelato is the size, though it’s probably for my own good. This cone cost $4.25 (basically $2.00 per minute because I ate it so quickly) and wasn’t quite enough. It was a nice sweet hit after lunch, but I wouldn’t call it a destination dessert.

Black Dog Gelato small cone. $4.25

Black Dog Gelato small cone. $4.25

Overall, I walked out satisfied with a definite intent of returning in the future. I really like that it gives neighborhood restaurants a Loop presence. Instead of risking opening up a stand-alone location that may not get enough traffic, they are able to bundle in with some of the more well-known spots and cater to a new audience.

My takeaways:
– Get there early. By the time I was leaving around 12:15 p.m., the line stretched to Adams Street (about a block from the entrance). Of course, it was opening day and there was plenty of hubbub, but I stick by the early-arrival suggestion because…
– It’s definitely an “I have some decent time to eat lunch” place. During the lunch rush, lines will probably take about 25 minutes. Again, it was the first day, so they’re probably still shaking a few things out, but plan on being there for a while.
– Bring a friend, but not one that you want to have a serious conversation with. There is music on overhead and the curling lines that encompass the seating areas leave little room for normal talking voices or deep conversations.
– Expect to spend at least $10. That’s pretty much downtown standards now but I spent about $15 on my two tacos and small gelato cone. My companion got a Truffle BLT and a root beer for about $13.
– It’s a great spot to go when you can’t decide what hunger mood you’re in. Once the sweaty summer days have subsided and no one wants to leave the office, it’s better to be indecisive indoors. They have some very different options that can cater to any palette.

Think of Revival as a tasting menu; each restaurant is sort of a mini version of the original–just enough to give you a flavor of the real deal. Because of the array of options, and the convenience, I can definitely see more artisan food halls like this becoming increasingly popular downtown. So long, on-the-run, wilted lettuce, it’s time for lunch with a side of experience.

Revival is located at 125 S Clark and is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. The bar stays open until 9 p.m.