Act One, Take One

It’s a wonderful thing when a new concert venue opens, and the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park is no exception.

A reasonably intimate, cabaret/theaterre- style space, Mayne is a cool place to see a show.

And I always fret about where to eat before a concert … is it close by? Is the food calorie-worthy? Can they accommodate my need to eat quickly? In this case, Act One Pub is the perfect solution. It adjoins Mayne Stage, so dinner is worry-free; better yet, the price is right.

Act One is dark and authentically pubby-looking. Big glass windows look out onto Morse Avenue, but inside it’s difficult to read the menu. A bit more lighting would be nice. The booths and bar table seating are comfy, and the bar itself is beautiful: dark, polished wood with big mirrors and cool backlighting. There’s a hip feel here without it slapping you in the face.

The Drunken Mussels ($8) were a pleasant starter, the little critters poached in sauvignon blanc and cream with garlic and shallots and served with crispy baguette slices. The mussels were plump and fresh, and once we added a little salt to bring out the flavor of the sauce, we were in business.

There are a number of menu items designated as “signature items,” so we felt honor-bound to order a few. The Polenta Marinara ($7), infused with paprika and seared, served over a house-made marinara with fried goat cheese and bacon-wrapped figs over an arugula salad tossed with vinaigrette, was as busy as it sounds. I loved all the flavors individually— – who doesn’t love a bacon-wrapped fig?— – but there was too much going on. Simply warming the goat cheese rather than frying it would have helped the dish immensely.

We went two for three on entrees, with the Shepherd’s Pie ($13), here a vegetarian dish, the clear winner. Served in an individual skillet, this gallimaufry of barley, tomatoes, carrots, peas, onions and mushrooms under a tasty potato crust was a home run.

The Bistro Steak ($20) was a good, fleshy piece of grilled hangar steak sauced with a red wine reduction and graced with a hefty dollop of mashed potatoes. I would have preferred the steak sliced more thinly so that it was a bit less chewy, but it had a lovely meaty flavor and was cooked exactly to order, medium rare to order.

Not so happy with the Seared Scallops Capellini ($22), although the scallops themselves were caramelized on the outside and cooked to perfection. The accompanying cappellini al olio, buerre blanc sauce and wilted spinach were tasteless. Where was the garlic? The lemon? The salt and pepper?

A friend arrived late and quickly ordered the Bacon Mac appetizer ($7). I’m a baked macaroni and cheese gal; this one was pasta simply sauced with a weirdly tangy combo of cheddar and gouda cheeses, heavy on the Dijon, and sadly, not enough of the touted Neuske’s applewood-smoke bacon. Sigh.

Things looked up with the Malted Chocolate Pot de Crème ($5), bruléed with a layer of turbinado sugar and served with a cloud of Grand Marnier-scented Chantilly cream (a/k/a fancy whipped cream) and a pecan lace cookie. Chocolate heaven.

The Strawberry Shortcake ($5) was a disappointment, with its rubbery (perhaps microwaved?) biscuit. I wouldn’t bother.

Service was a bit confused (um, maybe you should clear the apps before bringing the entrees?), but we were in and out in the allotted time. I would definitely go back before the next concert.

3 out of 5 stars

Act One Pub
1330 W. Morse Ave.

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