Thomas was a third-grade thug. He was the kid who got paddled by the principal monthly for infractions ranging from taking nips of art class mucilage from Elmer’s rubber orange nipple, to contorting his face grotesquely and eliciting guffaws from fellow classmates behind the teacher’s back.
I was never predisposed to a life of mischief, but, sometimes, vigilantism is infectious. Given a substitute teacher, anything could happen. One afternoon, when Mrs. B was gone, Thomas discovered that a sharp number two pencil thrown at just the right angle and velocity would stick in the porous drop ceiling tile of our classroom and hang like a precarious skinny yellow stalactite.
One stalactite is chance, but a cluster is art. Thomas needed help, and the devil made my wrists tremble. It was a dangerous occupation this pencil launch. A needle of graphite raining down was the sure loss of an eyeball. I pursed my lips, closed one eye, and let it rip. To my relief, and great delight, the Dixon Ticonderoga waggled a touch before settling in to the popcorn ceiling, it’s green metal ferrule glinting in the light.
My palm hung in the air like Jon Lester at the top of his fastball. But, any real reverie was quickly stolen. Like a player robbing a home run by shagging a fly ball off the top of the outfield wall, Mr. H, our paddling principal, soon curled his meaty palm around my wrist. It’s not a crime if you don’t get caught. But, timing is everything, and I was about to learn what time it was.
School lunch during the Reagan-era where federal guidelines allowed ketchup packets to be counted as a fruit and vegetable serving, was almost as bad as corporal punishment. I suffered mightily in elementary school. Pizza was gluey. The only edible part was greasy pepperoni. If you were wily, you could barter your cheese and dough slab for more pork circles from budding vegetarians. The fruit cup dripped in corn syrup more viscous than the La Brea Tar Pits.
I am nostalgic for these primary school moments (maybe nostalgic is the wrong word, since I’m recalling past terror very clearly and not a fictional delight burnished by memory) because Dutch & Doc’s, the new Boka group restaurant in Wrigleyville, which features long tube-style fluorescent light facsimiles, industrial Mid-century modern-style chairs, and lots of hard surfaces, channels my elementary lunch room cafeteria.
That makes sense, because the design firm Avroko tried to invoke the lunch counter businesses of one of the Chicago Cubs first owners. Avroko, which has designed some of my favorite restaurants, including Momotaro and Duck, Duck, Goat, is very good at what they do. And as such, they really captured the aesthetic and feel of a lunch counter, but it was a little too industrial and generic with a sprinkle of inspiration (checkered flooring) from Saved by The Bell’s fictional diner, The Max. Even though the fluorescent light fixture facsimiles weren’t harsh, they’re so realistic, I squinted at them in phantom ocular pain anyways.
I am originally a Detroit Tigers fan, and now a White Sox aficionado. The Wrigleyville magic doesn’t work on me the same way it might a kid who grew up idolizing Ryno or Fergie. However, I am a Chicagoan, who loves the majesty and contrast of an urban ballpark, its big shoulders bulging against the neighborhood that has grown up around it. No matter your affiliations, if you sit on the second floor of Dutch and Doc’s and behold the old field and its historic red crest now outfitted with a digital scrolling marquee flashing birthdays, anniversaries, and reminders not to burn down Wrigleyville after a World Series victory, it is impossible not to feel communion with the hopes and dreams and reverie of a century of past Chicagoans.
But, because there are 104 years of history available, the name of the restaurant is unforgiveable. It was chosen precisely because “Dutch” and “Doc” are the most common nicknames in the history of baseball. These are the Cubs! There were so many more creative and specific options to choose from like The Banks, Ernie’s, Let’s Play Two! Pryor and Wood (ok, maybe not), or Weeghman Park (Wrigley’s original name). Hot Doug Sohn has named all of his encased meat offerings more carefully than Boka group has christened their culinary stadium.
A lack of specificity is the problem with Dutch & Doc’s. Though Boka group is a burgeoning corporation, their restaurants have never felt like a product or a franchise. The menu here, however, which includes quinoa and kale, hummus, avocado toast, chicken wings, expense account-depleting hunks of meat, fried chicken, burgers, and pasta, has gone full Cheesecake Factory. Which is to say, based on the menu’s extreme length and detail, I would not be surprised to find George R.R. Martin had written it.
Unless you are Applebee’s, you can’t be everything to everyone. And frankly I would take a riblet over the lukewarm and mushy soy-glazed “crispy” ribs served here. While I appreciated that they came with Dutch and Doc’s-branded wet naps, my table left a few bone soldiers behind out of disinterest.
Chris Pandel, the capable mastermind behind Balena and The Bristol and others, is the named chef here, but the way nothing coheres, it feels like the Boka team got the whole corporate chef crew, Steph Izard, Lee Wolen, Jimmy P, and GT, together in a conference room and said, ‘Hey, throw out your best idea for a dish and we’ll put it all together!’.
The ideas are good. The execution is awful. The watermelon salad features mealy coral-pink tomatoes. I love the caramelized onion jam on the patty melt, but the burger was desiccated like Wrigley Ivy in February, and the bread was soggier than a double-dipped Italian beef. There is some kind of ceviche served with fried styrofoam. The fried chicken is acceptable, but the pimento cheese served on the side and whipped somewhere between the consistency of chocolate mousse and spray cheez is not.
Honestly, the only thing I liked at all were firm pappardelle ribbons bathed in pork and beef ragu showered with pecorino.
The shortcake in the strawberry shortcake was hard tack. The tres leches cake was moist, but my personal standard for tres leches is that it weeps like a miraculous Virgin Mary statue, and this one did not.
The pappardelle was an upsell from the server. When I expressed my love of the Dutch and Docs-branded wet naps, she brought me some to take home. When my buddy decided to out me since it was my birthday, she brought me a confetti sprinkle-encrusted chocolate-covered marshmallow outfitted with a flickering candle (the best dessert I had). Service was great at Dutch and Docs. But, I also hear the service was pretty awesome on the Titanic.
Dutch and Docs is located 3600 N. Clark, Chicago, IL