Living in the suburbs of Chicago for most of my life (and making a slingshot from far south to far north), I’m still occasionally pleasantly surprised by finding great new areas to explore. Until this month, I had no idea what a vibrant scene could be found in Downtown Naperville, a city located about 30 miles west of Chicago, and about an hour south of Rock Father HQ. After dropping the girls off at Grandma’s for the evening, my wife and I set out for an adventure – one anchored by dinner at The Craftsman by Two Brothers. I’d had a long-standing invitation* to check out what Two Brothers has been doing, not only at The Craftsman, but also at their Brewery and Tap House in Warrenville, but simply hadn’t had a chance until now. From what we saw in Naperville, I can tell you that there’s some impressive things afoot for foodies and beer lovers alike.
The Craftsman is an interesting beast in that it’s a 3-in-1 facility, offering The Market Cafe on the ground floor (breakfast/lunch/dinner with sandwiches, salads, a coffee bar and more), The Modern Tavern on the second floor (a farm-to-table dining experience – more on that below), and The Third Floor cocktail bar up top.
After a chilly walk from a nearby garage (parking in Downtown Naperville is FREE!), we settled into The Modern Tavern for our dinner. The staff and atmosphere are warm, with a vibe both classic and modern. With the restaurant on the second floor of an older building, it’s a deep, rectangular room, so the table space follows suit, maximizing use of the space.
Much like many of the restaurants I’ve been fortunate to eat in during my travels, the menu of The Craftsman is an ever-rotating affair created by Chef Tommy Michel and his crew, broken into four parts: Blueprints (appetizers), Structure (salads), Crosscuts (meat & cheese boards) and Foundation (entrees). The most intriguing part is that they’re creating a true farm-to-table experience, with all ingredients sourced from within 200 miles of The Craftsman when possible, and organic when they can.
After getting started with drinks (the new Two Brothers Pinball IPA for me) and some fresh-baked breads, we started with the Steam Buns – Northwind beer cheese, dried cranberries, onions and red pepper jam – served in a pair with chopsticks. My wife raved about these, and they’re apparently a big hit with the staff as well. We’re told that the contents of the buns is something that rotates with the menu.
Next up was a Meat & Cheese Board – and this is an interesting thing. If you wanted to, the board could be a meal by itself – and for my wife, it was. She is almost a vegetarian (poultry is an exception), so while she didn’t try the meats (which I quite enjoyed), she did indulge in the cheeses. All boards are served with cornichons, rye mustard, pear jam, beer crackers and spiced almonds, though the selection of meats and cheeses also changes frequently, with selections hand-picked by an in-house butcher and the on-staff chefs. Apologies to the cornichons, neither my wife nor myself are fans of pickles, no matter how adorably small they may be.
While my wife skipped the entree, I went with the House Burger – an 8oz patty of house ground beef, served with smoked gouda cheese, a hearty pile of arugula and bourbon-caramelized onions on a brioche bun. I’m a big burger guy, so trying a “house” specialty is something I’m generally up for, and this one did not disappoint. I enjoyed it medium, and as-is with no additional condiments. One of the big surprises here was the Craftsman Fries served with the burger. I’m not a huge fry-guy, but these were really good.
Now, with dinner being as satisfying as it was, the customary “did you leave room for dessert?” question was one I was having some trouble with, but in the interest of partaking in the full Craftsman experience, I went with the Carrot Cake. My wife ordered the Chocolate Torte, and we did share some bites of each.
I’m partial to the Carrot Cake, which I told the staff I thought “tastes like fall,” which is fitting since it comes infused with some “autumn spice” along with walnuts, caramel sauce and cream cheese icing. The torte is made from flourless chocolate, and comes paired with fresh whipped cream and blood orange sauce.
Overall The Craftsman by Two Brothers is a great experience, and one I’d like to have closer to home. It’s upscale without being too upscale, a little bit of a city vibe in the western suburbs. One important thing that really stands out is how well-spoken the staff is. Sometimes I think that when there’s the possibility that staff members of an establishment might know that you’ll be writing about the place, there’s a chance that they might be extra good. Our server was so detailed in her descriptions of the restaurant and their offerings that I assumed this might be the case… until I really listened to what was happening around us. She was on-point with all of their guests, but it wasn’t just her… the whole staff was just as detailed and attentive, and that’s impressive.
Between the food and the brew, here’s hoping that the Two Brothers eventually decide to plant a flag up here in Lake County. I think they’d do quite well.
The Craftsman by Two Brothers is located at 16 W. Jefferson, Naperville, IL 60540. Reservations for dinner (nightly) or brunch (weekends) is highly recommended. Check out the official site for details.
Thanks to Two Brothers for having us out!