Boeufhaus - Chicago
It can be difficult finding the very best steakhouses in Chicago. The city does beef so well that diners can despair of all the options available. But in visiting Boeufhaus, a French-inflected German steakhouse in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood (in a building once home to a Polish deli), you get a one-of-a-kind window into Chicago’s long and cross-cultural passion for steak. And while you’re visiting, you’ll also get that rarest of experiences—world-class steakhouse beef divorced from the suit-and-expense-account setting.
The charming, cozy (okay, maybe a bit narrow) restaurant opened in 2015 through the efforts of chefs Brian Ahern and Jamie Finnegan, both veterans of Daniel Boulud kitchens. They were looking to bring together that rarefied Old World dining sensibility with our current fixation on the local and the craft. Think farm-to-plate, but thicker, more casual, and sporting a solid mid-1992 Brian Dennehy mustache.
By all indications, Ahern and Finnegan have succeeded in creating something unique and acclaimed—earning a glowing writeup from The New York Times travel section, along with a 2016 Best New Restaurants nod from Bon Appetit. The locals have been just as impressed, with Jeff Ruby from Chicago magazine writing that “upon my exit from Boeufhaus’ warm cocoon into the outside world, I was sad to find that Western Avenue was not, as I’d begun to imagine, lined with red meat.”
Appetizers and starters (they’re modest but distinct menu sections here) reflect the chef/partners take on revived steakhouse touchstones. You could take a picky older aunt and she’ll eat well from the classics—old-school veal sweetbreads, a familiar but comforting steak tartare, and pate with cornichon, mustard, and greens. But there are also beignets jammed with short rib braised to near-incorporeality and served au jus, fresh crudo with fennel and sea beans, and a cavatelli featuring housemade merguez and caramelized shallots.
But you’re not shopping for a Chicago steakhouse based on raw fish. You’re looking for a verdict on the meat. And on that count, you can relax—Boeufhaus may reflect modern tastes, but the beef remains the star of the show, and it’s just as gigantic and lovingly aged as any in the city.
Writing for the Chicago Reader, Mike Sula said that the meat is “easily as good as—and in most cases better than—anything you can find in the city's center. Seared, presliced, and fanned crimson across the plate, both steaks have a proper edge of funk and minerality and are lusciously tender.”
The list of options is short, but to the point. Starting with a respectable 8 oz. hanger steak frites option, diners can go upscale (8 oz. filet), bigger (16 oz. New York strip), or gigantic and aged (a 22 oz. ribeye, dry-aged for either 35 or 55 days). Steaks are served with sauce bordelaise, sauce béarnaise, or au poivre. The small roster of sides includes beef tallow fries, asparagus, and mushrooms, as well as a memorable pan-fried spaetzle.
If, regrettably, you find yourself in need of vegetarian options, or find pescatarian-ness thrust onto you in the form of a dining companion with dangerous opinions on beef, Boeufhaus indeed has you covered. Start with a crudité, delicately fried perch, fresh scallop brandade or a substantial filet of Alaskan halibut or king salmon. And if you worry whether the seafood tower is a casualty of the new-look steakhouse ethos, perish the thought.
The drink options—especially given the relatively modest space—are eclectic and well chosen. The wine list skews both European and idiosyncratic, and a generous cocktail menu has something for fans of spirits from Armagnac to gin to Wild Turkey 101. And
as you’d hope from a German-inflected place with a liquor license, the draft list doles out generous pours from both classic German stalwarts and bomb-throwing American craft brewers.
At Boeufhaus, diners also get a welcome respite from the starched-shirt ramrod-straight service of the beef temples our fathers and grandfathers frequented. “The obnoxious swagger that often pollutes popular restaurants gets channeled into a giddy enthusiasm at Boeufhaus,” Ruby wrote. “On one visit, my sharp waiter seemed genuinely thrilled by how much my party loved the custardy, French-toasty bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel sauce. And no one forced the exhilarating Eurocentric wine list on me. I found it just fine.”
Impeccably sourced and aged beef, with unique beer, wine, cocktails, all served in a snug setting cozy enough to get lost in—it might never fly with the suit-and-cigar crowd three-and-a-half miles due east. And that’s probably for the best, because at least for now, Boeufhaus can be that out-of-the-way secret you share with like-minded steak-eating friends.