There are a few spots for craft beer in downtown Chicago, so most beer nerds venture toward the neighborhoods for a sip of something special. That’s one of the motivations behind Centennial Crafted Beer & Eatery, slated to open on Thursday in River North at 733 N. LaSalle Drive. They’ve transformed a 129-year-old building into two levels of craft beer goodness. Ben Sheagren will handle the food, and he has experience at craft beer restaurants. He worked as the chef at the venerable Hopleaf for nine years in Andersonville.
Owner Jeff Stevenson and beer director Patti Mandel wanted to craft a space to show off their passions for good beer and embrace their guests’ love for quality brews. The first-floor bar features 36 draft lines, and that’s where Centennial will have a little bit more fun with their selections. The second-floor bar will feature 20 draft handles, mirroring 20 of the beers downstairs.
“The idea was to create a place in River North for the craft beer community,” Stevenson said.
The first floor will feel more like a beer hall, while the second has more of a lounge atmosphere. Knowing that the building is more than a century old, visitors won’t find flatscreens displaying how much of their favorite beer is left. Centennial, named after a beer—Founders Centennial IPA—has more of a classic feel. The beer list is displayed on a board that has a chalkboard aesthetic, similar to Wrigley Field’s manual scoreboard.
The staff takes their beer seriously, and Stevenson said they’ve all been certified through the cicerone program. They want to share knowledge with guests and give them proper recommendations.
The beer and food menus (see the food menu below) complement each other. Stevenson envisions brewer’s nights when a featured food item is made with a particular beer. The beer will run the gamut, as Mandel wants a balanced tap list, not just focusing on hoppy ales or Midwestern beers, for examples.
“Chef Ben and I have been working together to really offer our guests nice pairing options if they do choose to go that route,” Mandel said.
Sheagren has been onboard for only five weeks. He’s conscious of his time at the Hopleaf and wants to serve up something different. For example, much of the food will feature Indian, North African and Mediterranean spices. The mussels, a classic Hopleaf dish, will be prepared with Indian spices, including curried sausage.
“I don’t think it’s ever been done, at least with craft beer,” Sheagren said. “Which is a shame because they go so well together.”
They’ll serve house-made charcuterie and house-smoked brisket. The brisket will be more of a Texas-style flavor, unlike the Montreal-style at Hopleaf. The beef will be mopped with a beer-based sauce and served with bread and butter pickles, beer mustard on pumpernickel bread. An entree highlight is the pork shank confit. Sheagren describes the exterior as crispy with a creamy inside. They’ll also eventually add weekend brunch.
Stevenson is confident in Centennial and with the people he’s gathered. Some places have great beer, some places have great food, but they’ve brought together the entire package.
“It’s the way we’ve combined them, we think that it hopefully provides a unique experience in River North,” Stevenson said.
There are plans to eventually finish the upper two floors of the four-level building, but they’ll start with serving beers on the ground and second floors. See the full menu below. The signs on the door may read Friday, but Centennial Crafted Beer & Eatery will soft open on Thursday.