Grill 89 is the first of Mike Ditka’s restaurants to only reference the legendary coach indirectly. Though the signage is patterned to evoke a connection to Interstate 89, it’s actually a reference to the number he wore while playing for the Chicago Bears.
The layout of Grill 89 quickly announces the priorities of the space. The door opens directly onto the large bar, spacious with exposed brick walls and refinished wood—giving it a casual, loftish feel. Nine big televisions throughout the room broadcast a bevy of sportscasts, and the tempting aroma of their well-used smokers grow the further back you move into the room. All the way at the back is a dining room, smaller than the bar, and separated by what look like repurposed barn stall doors. The dining room looks directly into the open kitchen and there and the scent of long-smoked meats is strong enough to make the mouth water and remove the thought of any other menu item from your mind.
We started with the Dip&Dip&Dip from the Small Plates menu, a basket of warm tortilla chips with three dips ranging across the flavor spectrum. The guacamame combines avocado creaminess with the flavor of fresh-shucked edamame, removing some of the cilantro tanginess. The white bean hummus is a nice light bean dip made with a dollop of white bean puree topped with feta cheese, sliced black olives, and microgreens. The best of the dips is also the simplest, a pimento cheese spread wonderfully combining sharp cheddar and diced pimento peppers that deliver a lasting thread of spiciness. This isn’t the only stunner on the menu involving pimento cheese, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.
The other heavy hitter from Small Plates, they ported over from the Ditka’s menu. The Pot Roast Nachos are tortilla chips covered in shredded pot roast, cheddar-jack cheese, jalapeños, sour cream, diced tomatoes, and scallions. The sweet juiciness of the pot roast adds a wholly unexpected, but very welcome, element to the familiar sports bar appetizer balancing the spicy kick of jalapeños.
From the Out of the Garden section of the menu, the Brussels Sprout salad brings in several unexpected elements to make up a very interesting and hearty offering. Chilled Brussels sprout leaves are the base of the dish, but they’ve been prepared to tease out a nuttiness that plays very nicely with thin slices of toasted almonds. Crumbles of bacon and feta bring savoriness while sliced strawberries and dried blueberries inject subtle sweetness. A mild citrus vinaigrette keeps the dish light and every bite resolves in a satisfying sprout flavor.
The thing that made the biggest impression on us was the part of the Grill 89 mission statement that separates it from the rest of the Ditka’s brand: the smoker. There are three options on the Smokehouse menu, Route 66 Baby Back Ribs, dry rubbed and slow pit smoked; West Texas 18-hour Beef Brisket, made from spice-rubbed Linz Heritage Angus beef from Indiana; and the Low Country BBQ Pulled Pork, cooked low and slow before being hand pulled and piled on the plate. They also have Pick Two and Pick Three combos, so we picked all three. All three of these meats are wonderfully smoke infused, with the meat falling off the bone of the ribs, the rub on the pulled pork giving a great kick of heat, and, the best, the brisket, so tender it flakes apart as soon as you touch it. It comes with a side of their BBQ sauce that lends each meat a little moisture and a gentle southern sweetness.
For a slight upcharge, we paired our Pick Three with their Pimento Mac & Cheese. It’s got all the deep creaminess of the homemade version with the spicy kick of the pimento peppers in the cheese and the perfect crunch from toasted breadcrumbs over the top. This is the ultimate champion of comfort food for those who like things a little zesty.
We also sampled some of the Linz Heritage Angus beef that hadn’t been through the smoker for comparison in the form of the Skirt Steak. This time is was wood-grilled and marinated, cooked medium, and topped with a flavorful salsa of roasted corn and black beans and chimichurri butter, all over a pool of jalapeno cream demi sauce. The steak knife slid easily through this tender rendition and proved a juicy steak flavor of a totally different tone than the other meats. It was also paired with a helping of Grill 89’s deliciously rich mashed potatoes.
Though Grill 89 shares Ditka’s flare for leaning into rich flavor-forward cuisine, it does it in a very different manner. Don’t miss the goods from the smoker or that Pimento Mac and Cheese.
Grill 89 is located at 800 E. Ogden Avenue, #214 in Westmont, 630-570-5889, grill89.com.