Moody Tongue Brewing was focused on becoming Chicago’s second Michelin-starred brewpub when it opened in November 2019 near McCormick Place. The restaurant featured a tasting menu from a popular chef who presided over Longman & Eagle when the Logan Square restaurant held a one-star status in the tire guide. But then the pandemic struck, Moody Tongue was forced to reinvent itself by offering a bar menu for carryout and creating a narrow sidewalk patio in front of the pub.
“We’re fighting,” owner Jared Rouben says.
Those high aspirations remain intact, as the dining room remains open for indoor dining. But the brewpub continues to evolve due to the pandemic. On Wednesday, the restaurant launches a new barbecue operation. Rouben says the “premium barbecue” uses meats from the same superb farms which supply beef and pork for their upscale tasting menu. He singles out Slagel Family and Catalpa Grove farms. With indoor dining deemed dangerous by health experts, restaurant owners are searching for revenue streams. Barbecue is a solid takeout option as smoked meats notoriously travel well.
“You might not be able to have an 11-course tasting menu at home, but you can buy barbecue from the same chef, same crew, same farmers,” Rouben says.
Rouben, a culinary school graduate, pointed out that the menu includes suggested beer pairings. Lagers always go well with barbecue. Moody Tongue’s Apertif Pilsner pairs well with pulled pork and brisket. Beer is also available for delivery. Rouben says as the seasons change and Moody Tongue releases new beers, he’ll revise pairings with new selections.
Moody Tongue chef Jared Wentworth is a New England native, which explains why a lobster roll appears on the menu. There’s no strong legacy of barbecue in Massachusetts, so Wentworth isn’t obliged to represent a specific region of barbecue. He uses applewood to smoke the meats which come with tomato-based Kansas City or mustard-based Carolina Gold. The ribs are pork baby back.
Chicago has already seen an explosion of new pizzerias open in the recent weeks, and takeout-friendly options are a safe bet as COVID-19 cases surge. The unpredictability of the disease has stressed out restaurant owners who don’t know when they’ll be able to safely reopen to their dining rooms to full capacities. In Chicago, the pressure is mounting as fall and winter’s dipping temperatures make outdoor dining unviable.
Barbecue is a comfort food with rich proteins that go over well during the fall and winter. But beyond the colder months, Rouben says barbecue is a permanent addition. The smoked menus will complement Moody Tongue’s bar menu. If customers call Moody Tongue and order directly from the brewpub, they’ll be able to order from both menus, Rouben says.
Packaged liquor has sold well during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean brewery taprooms are safe. In May, Three Floyds Brewing closed its Munster, Indiana taproom. Breweries have had to be inventive. For example, Begyle Brewing has converted a parking lot behind its Ravenswood facility into a beer garden with reservations booked via Tock.
Moody Tongue has worldwide distribution for its beer. But the business climate still is forcing them toward a new direction. Check out the full menu below.