Dusek’s and Punch House
Dusek’s and Punch House have been getting quite the hype lately so Mike and I decided it was time to take a trip down to Pilsen and see what all the fuss was about. With the triple threat of cocktail bar in the basement, restaurant on the main floor, and the soon-to-open Thalia Hall performance venue above, this previously unassuming corner on 18th St. is going to be a one-stop-shop for a fantastic night out!
Since Dusek’s only accepts reservations for parties of 5 or more, Mike and I arrived early on a Saturday night and settled in with a couple drinks at the bar and an order of the Iron Roasted Prince Edward Island Mussels with smoked pimenton and warm Harissa butter. Dusek’s has a very impressive beer list which Mike thoroughly enjoyed while I opted for the Dusek Cooler made with Becherovka, lemon, orgeat, orange flower water, and czech pilsner.
The mussels are an absolute must-order at Dusek’s – they have a great spicy kick and the warm Harissa butter is just ridiculously delicious. This was Mike’s first time trying mussels and I’m fairly certain that it’s going to be almost impossible for any other mussels to live up to these!
After finishing up at the bar we took a seat in the main dining area for dinner. Dusek’s dishes are all perfect for sharing and we decided to start with two that were on the smaller side – the “super secret special” of razor clams, chorizo, black garlic, and some other delicious ingredients, and the Wood Roasted Panzanella with roasted romaine, rosemary sourdough, pickled red onion, cucumber, oil-cured olives, fennel, tomato, and parmesan. The clams were delicious and I could’ve easily eaten more. The panzanella wasn’t all that special, but we wanted a lighter dish thrown into the mix and this was our server’s recommendation.
We had quite a bit of a wait between the clams and the panzanella and our two main dishes came out almost immediately after the latter, so timing is definitely something they can work on. For mains we ordered the Seared Day Boat Scallop with oxtail ragout, truffle gnocchi, pickled shallots, and fontina fonduta and the 18 Hour Coffee Rubbed Short Rib with celery root puree, child-salt roasted thumbelina, smoked king trumpet, charred frisee, and cocoa nib bordelaise.
The scallops were FANTASTIC-perfectly cooked and we loved the delicious truffle gnocchi underneath. The short rib, on the other hand, was a bit of a disaster. I attempted to cut into the meat and couldn’t even get through it with a knife. It was super tough and fatty so we did something I’ve never done – we sent the dish back. Our server was very apologetic and brought us a new plate but unfortunately that didn’t help. The meat wasn’t as fatty but it was still very tough and unappealing and none of the components on the plate felt like they worked well together; we ended up just forgoing this dish and saving more room for dessert.
There have been plenty of dishes I’ve tried that failed to impress but none in my memory that I flat out wouldn’t eat. The manager came by and let us know he took the dish off our bill and offered us two marbles for a round of drinks on the house, both very nice and attentive gestures. It was kind of a downer at the end of a really fabulous meal but luckily everything else we had made up for it. If you’re looking for another main, a few of our friends dined at Dusek’s the same night and said that the Crispy Pork Shank was amazing.
For dessert we ordered the Fried Stout with bavarois, coffee jelly, and toffee and the Chocolate Bar with pretzel ice cream truffle, coke cream, cherry jam, and brûléed house made marshmallow. Both of these were fantastic desserts and very inventive – I can now say I’ve tried coffee jelly and it’s kind of awesome! The chocolate bar was like a rich, flourless cake and the fresh cherry jam was the perfect compliment.
After finishing up dessert we headed downstairs to Punch House to check out the scene and cash in our drink marbles. Punch House is a funky little mix of basement dive, tiki bar, and cocktail lounge all wrapped into one. The drinks are strong and tasty and if you’re sharing you can order by the bowl.
Despite the few slips at Dusek’s, we had a great night and definitely plan on returning!
Dusek’s and Punch House are located at 1227 W. 18th St. in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.