One evening, a buddy of mine from Chicago was on social media and he was at a place in suburban Des Plaines called the Tap House Grill. I saw him a couple weeks later and I asked him about the place. He told me, "They have a great beer selection and some good food." The Tap House Grill is not far from the hotel I like to stay at near O'Hare Airport, so one evening I decided to find the place for dinner.
It turns out that there are seven Tap House Grill locations around the Chicagoland area. I was sort of stunned to find that out because the first one opened in far western suburban St. Charles nearly 10 years ago. I had not been familiar with the restaurants before this visit. The concept of Tap House Grill restaurants was hatched in 2005 by two members of Chicago-area management for the Bar Louie chain of bistro/restaurants.
Scott Ward and Mark Zych both had significant backgrounds in the restaurant business - Ward had started out in the fast food business after graduating from Prairie State College eventually going to work for Ala Carte Entertainment, a Chicago-area restaurant group that oversaw the operations of the famous Snuggery restaurants, as well as Moretti's (click here to see the Road Tips entry on Moretti's).
Zych had started out his restaurant career at Lone Star Steakhouse before moving on to a number of positions at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. eventually becoming the overall General Manager for all Bubba Gump locations. Zych and Ward got to know each other at Bar Louie when Ward was the Chief Operating Officer and Ward was a district manager for the Chicago area Bar Louie locations.
Pictured left - Mark Zych and Scott Ward. Photo courtesy Daily Herald.
Ward saw that the craft beer revolution had taken hold at Bar Louie when they began to put in multiple taps in many of their locations. Fresh, made-from-scratch foods were also gaining a foothold in many restaurants concepts. Ward and Zych envisioned a "gastro-pub" style of restaurant that had a focus on fresh, made-from scratch foods served along side interesting local craft beers. The first Tap House Grill location opened in far western suburban St. Charles in November of 2006. Ward and Zych have begun to franchise the Tap House Grill concept and last year they were joined by Tim Heavey - a former co-worker of Ward's a number of years ago - to become the Director of Operations with the responsibility of opening franchisee Tap House Grill locations.
The Tap House Grill in Des Plaines is located on Market Street, part of the Metropolitan Square entertainment/shopping and professional office complex. (see map) This location opened in late 2013 in a space that was formerly a Cheeseburger in Paradise that had closed a couple of years earlier. One of the problems that has plagued Metropolitan Square since it opened about nine years ago is visibility. The Tap House Grill is not visible from S. River Road as I had passed by it numerous times over the past couple of years, but had no idea that it was there.
The Des Plaines Tap House Grill is spacious with a large bar that curves around the center of the place. A number of high top tables were in the center with booths off to the side. You could call the Tap House Grill an upscale sports bar as they had a number of flat screen televisions hung throughout the place. It just so happened that it was Trivia Night at Tap House Grill and there were a number of people playing along that evening.
I took an open seat at the bar next to a group of people - three guys and two women - playing trivia. They have a number of beers on tap and in bottles at Tap House Grill. I saw that they had one of my favorite beers on tap - the Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point in San Diego. I ordered one from the bartender Chris who had a heavy Chicago accent when he asked me what I wanted to drink when he dropped off a menu.
At first glance, the food served at the Tap House Grill is your usual bar food - burgers, appetizers, shareable plates, salads, sandwiches and tacos. But looking a little more deeply into what they had told me that this was a different place. Appetizers included a double-decked Southwestern chicken quesadilla, chicken fingers that are battered in a Samuel Adams beer-base, and something called drunken shrimp in a concoction of jerk seasoning, thyme, and pale ale beer, then broiled.
They called their sandwiches "two-handed" for as big as they were. They had pressed ciabatta sandwiches, chicken wraps, a one-pound BLT sandwich, and a signature root beer-braised beef and gouda sandwich. Burgers included a Kobe beef burger, a blue cheese/bacon/mushroom burger, and a stout-glazed burger patty topped with Merkt's cheddar cheese. Entrees included a barbecue platter with pulled pork, a barbecued pork shank and barbecued chicken; a braised-beef ravioli dish; and a linguine shrimp dish with grilled shrimp in linguine tossed with chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil and oil, and topped with a red pomodoro sauce and Parmesan cheese.
But the tacos part of the menu caught my eye right off the bat. Even though I looked around the menu, I kept coming back to the tacos. I ordered the blackened tilapia tacos. The three soft-shelled tacos were filled with grilled, blackened tilapia, and topped with lime-marinated cabbage. A chipotle-infused ranch dressing came on the side, as well as black beans, rice and avocado slices. With everything mixed in the tacos, the taste was very good. I'm a sucker for good fish tacos and these were excellent, indeed. They were just exactly what I needed that particular evening - nothing heavy, but still filling enough.
While I was enjoying the tacos, the group at the bar to my left were stuck on a trivia question - I can't remember what it was - and I casually leaned to the guy to my immediate left and gave him the answer I thought it was. He told the group, "Hey, this guy thinks it's this!" And they turned that answer in and it was correct. Moments later they were stuck on another question and I gave him another answer that I believed was the right one. And that was correct, as well! Suddenly, others in the group were saying, "Hey, man! You want to join us?"
I thanked them, but said no. I had finished my tacos by that time, was almost done with my second Sculpin IPA and was ready to get to the hotel. But right before I left, another question came up - "Which government agency oversees the United States Secret Service?" They were immediately discussing whether it was the Department of Justice or the Treasury Department. I said to the guy, "I think it's the Department of Homeland Security, but I may be wrong on that." I think they went with the Treasury Department.
As I was getting up to leave, the trivia night M.C. said, "The answer is the Department of Homeland Security!" The guy next to me yelled, "Hey, that's what this guy said!" As I was leaving the group was trying to get me to stay and play. "You're our best player," one of the ladies said. "You can't leave now!" I laughed over that. My visit to the Tap House Grill was fun. Interacting with friendly people seated at and standing behind the bar was a nice diversion that particular evening. The blackened tilapia tacos with everything added on to them were very good, and I was very impressed with the beer selection they offered. It appears the menu at Tap House Grill has a little bit of everything for everyone, but it's definitely a step - or two - above you're regular bar-type of food. I enjoyed every aspect of my first visit to a Tap House Grill.