[Photograph: Josh Conley]
Beneath the iconic skeletal road rasher doing doughnuts high above the corner of Grand and Ogden lies Twisted Spoke, which could easily be the friendliest little biker bar in Chicago. Sounds kind of like a Broadway musical, doesn’t it? Please don’t tell them I said that.
It is a biker bar, yes. Full of leather and burl and names like Extract and Stain. Braided ponytails and whiskey barrels. Enough loose Harley parts adorning the exposed brick walls to assemble a small gaggle of hogs. Smut and Eggs (just what you think it is) on Saturday nights. And…kids? You tend to notice these things when you have kids. Or when you are at a biker bar, and one walks in. Especially since she had more tattoos than Tommy Lee, reeked of PBR, and gave me the bird as she walked by.
Oh, I kid, of course (ba-dum-bum-pssh). Though not about the kid-friendly part; that is true. The Spoke attracts all kinds of diners and drinkers alike, and none of them seem out of place.
A few months ago, I picked Twisted Spoke as my favorite late-night eats spot, and I would still happily argue their Fatboy burgers belong in the upper echelon of Chicago burgerdom. But there’s much more than that on the menu to sate your road-weary appetite.
The BBQ nachos ($9) look like a pulled pork sandwich was rappelling down the side of a tower with no safety equipment, and its entire heap of barbecue goodness fell out, only to splash down into a conveniently-placed pool of tortillas. And then someone melted some smoked Gouda on top and added some fresh cilantro. The pork is tender but not overcooked, and make the perfect contrast to the crunch of the chips. The sauce is rich, tomato-y, with a bit of smoke and spice coming through. I could have gone for a bit more cilantro, but these things are seriously addictive.
The fish and chips ($12.95) is a bit unique in that it’s two huge pieces of catfish, dipped in a light beer batter and fried to a deep, rust brown. The fish is buttery with a subtly sweet aftertaste, and the light batter adds to the great texture. The house-cut fries are solid enough, if a bit under-salted. Though I’m not a huge fan, the housemade tartar sauce is chunky, and full of onion and pickles. Buffalo sauce is also served, and makes a surprisingly great dipping option.
Bacon tempura ($5) is just what it sounds like—bacon that is tempura-battered and deep-fried. It has a gentle crunch on the outside and the bacon itself is soft and chewy. I prefer mine crispy in general, but come on, it’s deep-fried bacon, here. You can’t really go wrong. Because it’s still deep-fried bacon. It doesn’t hurt that it’s served with a fabulous little radish slaw, with pickled okra and avocado in a mild vinaigrette.
The flaming lemon wings ($9) are meaty wings marinated in lemon, chilies, and garlic, fried, then set ablaze at your bidding. The lemon is in the driver’s seat here, which you don’t normally expect from a wing. And just as you settle into your passenger role, the heat of the chilies start to backseat drive, and keep at it well after you’ve arrived. Unique, a bit showy, but certainly worth trying.
With its food, ridiculous whiskey list (ballpark of 200, ½ off on Wednesdays), great craft beer taps, sporty TVs, and no-helmet-laws attitude, the Spoke appeals to a wide clientele. This is why it works as a musical. The Friendliest Little Biker Bar in Chicago. A Baby Boomer weekend biker is mistaken for the president of a Hell’s Angels chapter. Hilarity ensues. Somehow I feel like there’s a bike messenger involved. It’s got potential, I’m just sayin.’
NOTE: The Twisted Spoke website is under construction. An up-to-date menu can be found here.
Josh Conley is single-handedly trying to re-introduce the verb beget into the everyday lexicon. He traveled to Easter Island one Christmas out of sheer irony. He excises a hefty syntax, and shamelessly promotes the color orange. His wife begat him two small children that he regularly belittles HERE.