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River location aside, Bridge House needs to up the ante on its food

Bridge House Tavern’s versisteak frites features grilled hanger steak flavored with bearnaise sauce. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times Photos

Bridge House Tavern’s version of steak frites features grilled hanger steak flavored with bearnaise sauce. | Keith Hale~Sun-Times Photos

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321 N. Clark; (312) 644-0283;

Hours: 11 a.m.-close Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-close Saturday-Sunday; brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

Prices: Lunch/dinner menu: starters, $4-$12; sandwiches, $10-$14; entrees, $16-$29.

Try: Mussels, salmon BLT, tavern chicken, steak frites.

In a bite: Take the stairs or the elevator on Clark Street down to this riverside restaurant, one that features contemporary American cuisine. The scene is all about the water location and the city view. The cuisine is plagued with inconsistencies. If you can snag a seat outdoors on a sunny day for a weekend brunch, you will feel like you are on vacation. Service tends to lag. Good for children. Reservations are accepted.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary;

★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good;

★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

Updated: July 28, 2011 7:44PM

How can it be that restaurants occupying a prime location on our sparkling Chicago River and with million-dollar views of the skyline have trouble making a go of it?

Bridge House Tavern has grabbed the space vacated long ago by Flatwater. One might posit that, although it’s on the water, Bridge House Tavern is not at street level and, to complicate matters, has poor signage, to boot. Ah, but I would counter that argument with the fact that the original Morton’s on North State was way below street level (and still is). Need I say more?

Bridge House Tavern is turning out decent food, but unless it steps up to the plate and makes something happen, its waterside location and urban-electric view will not fill the bill.

While the mussels were decent, with a nice back flavor in the broth (citrus) and some zip from serrano peppers, these mussels could have been fresher. The menu didn’t state if these were top-drawer PEI mussels, and I doubt they were, so why serve them?

The lunch/dinner menu offers a lot of everything, seemingly trying to come up with something for everybody. A little of this and a little of that isn’t going to cut the mustard. Offering fewer dishes and making them better would go a long way toward consistency.

I will applaud some of the more creative aspects of the menu, like the smoked salmon on toast (the parsley salad, chive cream and mascarpone additions were great). And the po’boy — the French roll stacked with tiger prawns and a celery root slaw — was not only delicious but fairly priced at $13 (price includes a side of fries or a salad),

On the other hand, starters like flavored popcorn, charcuterie, wedge (salad), bruschetta and pig wings are being done to death all over town.

Basic fare will never get boring. So, for example, the “Tavern chicken” was excellent. The half-bird (“free range, organic”) was meaty, tenderly moist and mighty flavorful. Paired with Anson Mill grits and an herb butter sauce, this was a fowl most fair.

I am of a mind that hardly anyone will tire of a basic steak frites. This was a good one. The 10-ounce hanger steak had been grilled to a proper medium-rare and sported a light smear of bearnaise sauce. (Lose the truffle oil; it doesn’t work with this.) The frites were quite acceptable.

I would add, despite a few shortcomings, that Bridge House Tavern is quite the spot for a weekend brunch. On a Saturday morning several weeks ago, the restaurant was jamming. The brunch menu offers standard brunch basics — pancakes, French toast, omelets. But as I think about it, I could get more excited about the brunch fare than that at lunch and dinner. Case in point, the salmon BLT — an interesting composition, one that employed the use of a “salmon spread,” which though it tasted like salmon (smoky), it did not have the consistency we think of with, say, smoked salmon. Roasted tomatoes elevated the enjoyment, and arugula and crusty ciabatta completed the package. Whether you want the accompanying bacon milk shake (crumbles of bacon atop a standard milk shake) that comes with it is another matter altogether.

And though I had a hankering for the huevos rancheros, I couldn’t quite fit it in.


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