Summer in Chicago is short (July, August, occasionally September) but oh, so sweet. The Hampton Social aims to make the feeling last all year long – and largely succeeds.
From the moment you step inside (and even before, walking beneath the twinkling strands of white linen globe lights on your way to the door), you are transported to the seaside. The rooms are large and airy, with plenty of whitewashed bricks, wood and columns dotting the space. Hammocks hang by the huge floor-to-ceiling windows, open in the waning days of summer; ropes, lobster baskets and ship wheels are used in service of lighting and other décor. It’s somehow less cheesy than it sounds; you can almost hear the Atlantic Ocean waves crashing in the distance. Or was that an angry Lake Michigan?
Grab a Chair
There are Adirondack chairs in the lounge area, and depending on your luck – and your perspective – you might sit in a comfortable chair in the main dining area (quite loud) or in a small and problematic cane chair (ouch! if you are bigger than a size 6) in the much-preferred, quieter side room, which faces the looming edifice of the East Bank Club.
About the crowd: packed even on a Monday night, dinner is a mostly under-40 crowd, seemingly fresh from their workout, a nearby gallery or the Board of Trade. Lunchtime skews a bit older.
Gatsby Knew Best
Get in the East Coast beach mood with a Gatsby G & T ($13), made with Ford’s Gin, fresh lime juice, Fever Tree Bitter Lemon Tonic, juniper berries and a charred sprig of rosemary to swizzle it all. Refreshing, isn’t it, old sport? If you opt for the Montauk Margarita ($13), go spicy, as it is a bracing counter balance to the sweetness of the rhubarb- and ginger-infused tequila, simple syrup, lime and Giffard Apricot liqueur. If you’re really doing it up, there’s always And a Bottle of Rum ($24), a headache waiting to happen served in a whole coconut (limit one per customer).
You can order a wood-fired pizza if you’d like – they are half price during Happy Hour, Monday through Friday, 4-6 p.m. – but we preferred to stick with the East Coast theme, where the restaurant plays to its strengths.
East Coast Flavors
The halibut and shrimp Ceviche ($14) was a lovely and highly textural dish, plump pieces of seafood mixed with chunks of avocado, jicama, roasted peppers and pineapple, served with crispy fried plantains for scooping. If you’re looking for a healthy yet substantial salad, you can’t do better than the Quinoa Salad ($15), which incorporates pulled roasted chicken, spinach, mushrooms and smoked cheddar cheese, all tossed in sherry vinaigrette and topped with a pile of thinly sliced fried onion rings.
Burrata lovers, rejoice. You won’t find the ubiquitous tomato topping here, but instead the creamy cheese ($15) is served with swaths of homemade preserves (rhubarb and blueberry the night we dined) and plenty of grilled bread all presented on a wooden plank (which I would be happy to walk if there was burrata at the end of it).
You can’t call yourself an East Coast-focused place if you don’t have crab cakes and lobster, preferably in abundance. Although these aren’t my favorite Crab Cakes ($19) in town – though perfectly crisped on the outside and served with a smoky charred corn relish and lemon aioli, the inside had a plethora of mayonnaise and was more crab salad than cake – the “Lobster Overload” section cannot be faulted. It does make it hard to choose: deviled eggs topped with lobster or lobster-topped pizza? Do you prefer your iconic lobster roll Maine or Manhattan style?
And then there’s the Montauk Mac ($19), chunks of lobster claw submerged in a small vat of smoked cheddar macaroni and Swiss chard, topped with buttery bread crumbs. That is good eating.
Among the “Handhelds,” the Prime Rib Sandwich ($18) was a winner, the pillowy brioche bun stuffed with shaved prime rib, caramelized onions, pickled peppers and melted fontina cheese, served with jus for dipping and a pile of their addictively crispy shoestring fries dusted with Old Bay seasoning. More of the fries popped up alongside beer-battered cod in the Fish & Chips ($18), served with little bowls of tartar sauce and malt vinegar gastrique.
The star turn of the evening was taken by the Diver Scallops ($28), four perfectly sautéed beauties served atop a bed of creamy cheddar grits, sauce Creole, and sautéed cherry tomatoes, caper berries and slivered garlic. It was fantastic.
We skipped dessert (What? Heresy!) because they currently outsource it all, but are now in the process of shifting over to housemade selections. If you crave a sweet, they do have gelato and macarons in many flavors, along with a few other treats.
No need to wait for next year to relive those sweet days at the beach; if you are looking to prolong your summer, The Hampton Social can give you exactly what you need right now.
The Hampton Social
353 W. Hubbard St.
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