How Avondale Food Scene Has Blossomed Over 5 Years
( Ariel Cheung / DNA Info)
The rock 'n' roll princes of European street food opened in January in the former Square Bar, 2849 W. Belmont Ave., after two years of running the DönerMen food truck. Specializing in traditional Turkish döner kebabs — made with spit-roasted chicken — and spicy currywurst, DMen Tap provides a fresh spin, serving up the döner meat as a salad or on top of yufka flat bread.
Drink Dungeons & Dragons style at DMen Tap in Logan Square
(Lenny Gilmore / RedEye)RedEye
Mini-review: DMen Tap
2849 W. Belmont Ave. 773-961-8757
Rating: 4 (out of four)
I was afraid I might get murdered if I played Dungeons & Dragons. My mom, like so many other parents in the late 1980s, got caught up in a moral uproar about the popular role-playing game. She cited news accounts of dungeon masters supposedly committing suicide and murder as a result of playing the game and warned me I should stay away. So when I heard that Dungeons & Dragons influenced DMen Tap, a new Logan Square restaurant from Donermen food truck owners Shawn Podgurski and Phil Naumann, I was a little apprehensive to visit.
The room: I assumed the place would be some kind of dark dungeon filled with 12-sided dice and budding Wiccans. The restaurant logo, which features a demon wielding scimitars amidst flames, didn’t really disabuse me of this notion. But stepping inside from an onslaught of rain and sleet immediately banished those fears. The bar feels downright homey with a couple of golden repurposed church sconces casting their light against burgundy-colored walls and exposed brick. Sure, there’s a painting of a Cyclops casting laser beam death rays toward the corncob-shaped Marina Towers, but DMen Tap was otherwise chill.
As bar culture has evolved in Chicago, it feels like every watering hole is now some kind of over-stylized room with a backstory ("The bar top was repurposed from an ocean liner stateroom we found at the bottom of the sea!"). DMen Tap was mostly black pleather banquettes, wood high-tops and the kind of flickering red candleholders you might find in a vintage Italian restaurant. The vibe reminded me of the early days of Map Room or Hopleaf. The focus was less on interior design and more on conversation and community.
The backstory: DMen Tap was more or less part of the plan Podgurski and Naumann had set when they first debuted their food truck, Donermen.
"We had hoped to eventually do this. Food trucking is hard," Podgurski said. "I mean, I'm not comparing it to people going through huge traumatic things, but the competition is fierce and the laws made it rough. Running a bar is stressful, but having things in one place is a lot easier."
The pair came up with the truck idea while they were in a band called Sybris, which played Lollapalooza in 2006.
"We had a lot of part time jobs. We did it for 11 years, but at some point as we got older, we knew we weren't going to be The Rolling Stones," Podgurski said. "I noticed that there was a switch in the city, and chefs were the new rock stars. Where we once had Jeff Tweedy, Liz Phair or Billy Corgan, people were talking about chefs that way. We used to go to Rainbo [Club] and people would ask what band you were in. But pretty soon, I noticed the question became, 'Where do you sous chef?'"
The food: Before they launched the truck, Podgurski and Naumann went to Germany, where they estimate they tried 30 different doner kebabs and nearly 70 currywursts. They returned to Chicago to scour Middle Eastern bakeries to find the right pita and sausage makers to craft the sausage for the currywurst. Podgurski developed a curry blend.
That attention to detail and research has paid off. The gas-roasted chicken doner ($11) is juicy and flecked with char and pepper. The pickled salad and condiment zings through the richness of the chicken, and their toasted pita is crackling on the outside and pillowy inside. The currywurst sausage ($9) is custard smooth and sits on a bed of golden French fries smothered in thick, lip-smacking curry paste.
Poutine ($9) has become so popular in Chicago that it should probably be on the Banned Restaurant Food list along with pork belly and caprese salads. The DMen version, though, is something. Curds meld into the hot gravy bath, stretching and oozing like a never-ending mozzarella stick. And the fries stand up to the onslaught.
The drinks: I mentioned Map Room earlier, but the beer list at DMen Tap isn't as encyclopedic. Still, it's a very well curated list. Penrose Raspberry dubbel ($7) wafts a serious bready perfume followed by a fruity (not sweet) top note. 3 Floyd’s Yum Yum ($6) tastes like the lovechild of a pale ale and wheat beer.
You don’t expect good cocktails at a beer bar, but those are here too. I've sipped so many old fashioneds in recent years that I'm expecting to transform in to Don Draper any minute. The Winter Old Fashioned ($10) served here is certainly boozy, but the cinnamon syrup and orange bitters in the mix lend a touch of fire and balance. The Caesar ($6)—with its celery salt rim, picante Clamato juice and vodka—drinks like a satisfying liquid version of a Chicago dog, minus the hot dog. This might seem weird, but I can't ever get enough. Now, if they only spiked it with a sport pepper.
The service: Guests order food from a separate takeout window at the back of the bar. The window is so high off the ground that you might feel like a hobbit supplicating to Gandalf. Or maybe like you’re ordering from a food truck, thus replicating the Donermen truck experience indoors. The cool thing is you don't have to stand around and wait for your food. The cooks bring it out to your table and even bus the tables once you've finished.
Bottom line: Fans of classic Chicago bars like Map Room, Hopleaf and their ilk are going to really dig DMen Tap. Whereas so many bars these days are masquerading as baby clubs pulsing with EDM and serving as booty-call barns, DMen Tap is a place for grown-ups to gulp down high quality brews, chow on spit roasted meats and chill.
Michael Nagrant is a RedEye freelancer. Reporters visit restaurants unannounced, and meals are paid for by RedEye.
Inside Avondale’s New Oasis For Kebabs, Craft Beer and D&D
DönerMen’s DMen Tap opens on Wednesday
Now that Christkindlmarket has wrapped up at Daley Plaza, the DönerMen—an annual vendor at the holiday festival—is ready to open up their new cozy Avondale restaurant. DMen Tap will open on Wednesday inside the former Square Bar & Grill, offering an extensive selection of craft beer coupled with DönerMen’s Euro-style döner kebabs, rice bowls and salads, plus new items that they’ll eventually add.
The DönerMen food truck is one of the city’s more popular places for meals on wheels. That’s why there’s continuity inside the restaurant, featuring the same art that adorns their truck. The pick-up window in back simulates the food truck experience. Customers will eye the menu on the wall, bark out their orders, retreat to their seats and then pick up their food. But unlike the food truck, customers will have the benefit of waiting with a tasty beer from brewers including Three Floyds Brewing Co., Forbidden Root and more. While walking through, don’t stumble over a 12-sided die and miss the Dungeons & Dragons paraphernalia.
For now, the menu will mimic the food truck, but having a full kitchen means that down the line they’ll add new items including house-made sausages. It’s not all about booze, as they’re also working on a unique coffee program featuring Metric Coffee.
The tap is right across the street from burger haven Kuma’s Corner. This provides the potential for a convenient, boozy and beefy bang-bang, the kind of activity that comedian Louie C.K. would partake. Ponder that while checking out the photos below. DMen Tap opens on Wednesday.
THE ZAGAT REVIEW
Döner kebabs and craft beers star on the menu at this Avondale hangout born of the DönerMen food truck where patrons can also enjoy fresh-brewed Metric coffee along with salads, rice bowls, poutine and curry fries in a funky setting filled with Dungeons & Dragons memorabilia
How Tough Food Truck Laws 'Lit A Fire' And Led To New Avondale Meat Palace
By Ariel Cheung | January 4, 2017 7:54am - DNA INFO
AVONDALE — The DönerMen food truck was never meant to last forever.
But Chicago's cumbersome food truck scene became so intolerable after two years in business, owners of the German-Turkish mash-up accelerated their plans to put down roots.
"It just became kind of a nightmare," co-owner Shawn Podgurski said of operating the food truck. "And that really lit the fire underneath us to really get going."
DMen Tap opens Wednesday at 2849 W. Belmont Ave. in Avondale. Specializing in traditional Turkish döner kebabs and spicy currywurst, the newest iteration of DönerMen replaces Square Bar, which quietly closed in September.
Chicago's unusually restrictive food truck laws have limited the growth of the niche eateries since introduced in 2012, Podgurski said.
But until recently, there was a little slack granted when it came to rules limiting trucks to no more than two hours in one location and over 200 feet from any restaurant. That changed in recent months, and the city cracked down on violators, he said.
The DönerBox puts the spit-roasted meat and dressings on a bed of greens. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"It became more of a grind, and it went from being a fun community to kind of competitive," Podgurski said. "They kept issuing licenses to more trucks, and there just isn't enough space."
Food truck owners would scout out places overnight, parking junker cars in coveted spots from which they could sell food the following day.
By August, the men of DönerMen were fed up and started scouting out locations for a brick-and-mortar restaurant. A few months later, a Cook County judge upheld Chicago's food truck ordinance, reinforcing their push to move on.
As young indie rockers, Podgurski and fellow bandmate Phil Naumann had "a lot of pipe dreams," but needed to regroup after getting married and having kids, Podgurski said. His love of cooking paired well with a friend's idea to open a European street food truck, and DönerMen was born.
Their menu is fairly simple, focusing largely on the German döner kebab wraps, made with spit-roasted chicken topped with red cabbage, lettuce, bok choy and shirazi salad. The DönerBox serves up the same, but on fresh greens instead of the yufka flat bread.
While touring Germany in search of the ultimate döner, Podgurski and Naumann fell hard for currywurst, as well. Theirs is served on crispy fries with one-third pound of pork and veal sausage and sweet, tangy DMen curry sauce.
Seasonal cocktails include a winter Old-Fashioned made with Clive May's Alabama Whiskey, orange bitters and cinnamon simple syrup ($10). Fans of the Southern sazerac can try an apple brandy version made with Bulleit rye whiskey, bitters and Kübler Swiss Absinthe ($12).
Other menu items include curry fries, a döner salad and poutine.
The new restaurant extends the food truck's rock-n-roll ethos, and a replica of the truck's hand-painted, science fiction doomsday scene is front and center at DMen Tap.
Customers order from a walk-up window akin to the food truck and grab a seat or a counter space, or order from the roomy bar that remains from Square Bar.
DMen Tap offers a range of beers and housemade cocktails. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"There's something about this neighborhood. It has a good feel to it, and it reminds of of what Logan Square and Wicker Park were back in the '90s," Podgurski said.
The trio looked for locations near Logan Square, extending their search to Avondale and Humboldt Park. When they discovered Square Bar was vacant, it seemed like a perfect fit.
"Logan Square just happened too fast. You blinked your eye and there's just all these places," Podgurski said.
Avondale, on the other hand, gives them room to grow.
Customers order food from a window designed to look like the DönerMen food truck. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
The offbeat neighborhood — home to the similarly veined Kuma's Corner and Reed's Local — is a perfect fit for the owners of DönerMen, said Podgurski, who lives in Humboldt Park.
The bar will also look to collaborate with the nearby Bucket O' Blood record store on "deep cuts" and record releases and pair with other neighborhood businesses on a score of projects, Podgurski said.
"There's no reason this can't be a place where people come, take Uber and visit a bunch of different places to eat and drink," he said. "We want to be a park of making this strip (flourish)."
They will, however, bring the food truck back in the summer. The truck's offseason — following a December stint at Christkindlmarket — gives the team enough time to settle in on Belmont Avenue before returning to the food truck grind, Podgurski.
The restaurant is open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays.
From Food Truck to Midnight Curry Fry Depot...
This Is the True Story of Dmen Tap
BY SAM EICHNER JANUARY 09, 2017 - URBAN DADDY
Dönermen was a highly successful food truck, roving around our fair city with European-style kebabs, curry fries and German maté soda. There was only one problem: Beer.
They didn’t have beer.
Such is the shorthand version of how Dmen Tap came to be. It’s the punk rock brick-and-mortar iteration of that most reputable meat mobile, and it’s open now in Avondale. You can find pictures here.
To recap: you now have a cozy watering hole with all of Dönermen’s mainstays (pork/veal currywurst, chicken gravy poutine...), plus new rice bowl options, draft beers, wintry Old Fashioneds and grappa drinks with Metric coffee.
We can see you coming here any night of the week, really, and posting up at the small bar with a friend or two. There may be some candles. It’ll be nice, in a not-romantic way.
If all you require is a midnight snack to go with your libation, you might try the curry fries, smothered in their homemade sauce.
But if you require something more substantial, go for the Döner Box: it’s their spicy, yogurt-y, spit-roasted chicken kebab, deconstructed over a bed of fries, greens or rice.
Easily the least pretentious deconstruction you’ll hear about all day.
Watch Shawn Podgurksi of the DonerMen food truck create a fantasy dinner inspired by Dungeons & Dragons
Posted By Julia Thiel on 05.06.16 at 08:00 AM
"I'm not opposed to tofu," Shawn Podgurski says. "I'm just not a big fan." The DonerMen food truck chef—he identifies as "a real meat-and-potatoes guy"—was initially stumped when Jeff Wang of the Yum Dum Truck challenged him to create a dish with the pressed soybean curd. Soy-based products, he says, are often used as substitutes for his favorite ingredients to eat and to work with: meat, heavy cream, butter. "I don't really like to substitute," he says.
"I was actually losing sleep over the whole thing," Podgurski says. Inspired by a night of partying and playing Dungeons & Dragons, he decided to make a dinner for a fantasy world. The main course: a vegan shepherd's pie he calls Druid Pie. "I imagine it's something that a druid living in the forest who doesn't want to cause harm to animals would make for when he has his druid friends and dryads and fairies over," he says. Because he'd decided to make the dish vegan he couldn't use milk or butter, so in addition to a dried tea-flavored tofu that he substituted for lamb, Podgurski used Korean silken tofu to add creaminess to the mashed potatoes. (The various tofus came from a "Chicago culinary journey" that covered Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese markets.)
After sauteing onions, carrots, mushrooms, and jalapeño in coconut oil, Podgurski added some vegetable broth and Three Floyds Backmasking oatmeal stout, then the chopped tofu, peas, and corn. For the mashed potato topping he blanched garlic cloves, using both the blanching water and the garlic itself for added flavor; he pureed the two with the silken tofu, then mashed the mixture into the boiled potatoes. Podgurski added a thick layer of potatoes on top of the tofu-vegetable mix to seal in the liquid before popping the dish into the oven.
For dessert, he made what he calls Efreeti Parfait—named for a mythological Middle Eastern demon—a blend of Chinese silken tofu, almonds, pistachios, lemon juice, dates, a square of baklava, and a dollop of honey. (An earlier iteration had also included Turkish delight, which he said made the parfait overly rich.) Podgurski served it in a carved-out dragonfruit with a sprinkle of chile powder on top. To go with the meal, he poured a little more of the Backmasking beer.
"Best Druid Pie I've ever had," he says