Coppervine, which opened late last year in Chicago’s upscale Lincoln Park neighborhood, takes the guesswork out of deciding what drinks to order with dinner. The restaurant suggests on its printed menu a specific wine, beer and cocktail to pair with each course.
Why? “Great pairings make the food and drink taste better,” says Don Sritong, Coppervine partner and beverage director. Sritong grew up experimenting with pairings in the restaurant business, and he now shares his knowledge with customers who may not think too much about how beverages work with what they’re eating.
Coppervine’s drink program include wines from all regions, with a focus on good-values from small producers; craft beers, including many from regional microbrewers; and a range of spirits that mixologists use in custom cocktails.
Examples of custom cocktail and food pairings include an Heirloom Daiquiri, made with Olmeca Altos tequila, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, basil syrup, fresh lime juice and clarified tomato water matched with fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and roasted garlic flat bread.
Coppervine’s Brown Butter Old Fashioned is built from a brown butter, milk solids and bourbon infusion, frozen for six hours and strained and served with an orange peel garnish placed over a hickory-smoked ice cube; the drink is paired with the Maine lobster macaroni and cheese. And a Modern Man’s Manhattan (Redemption rye, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters) is a match with grilled baby octopus, roasted cherry tomatoes and mint gremolata.
Even desserts have pairings: A house-made horchata (cinnamon syrup, Altos tequila blanco) is recommended with the warm Valrhona chocolate molten cake with Tahitian vanilla chantilly.
Beverage tasting portions, sized at 3 oz. for wine, 5 oz. for beer and 2 oz. to 3 oz. for cocktails, enable customers to experience more pairing options than most diners would try on their own. The portions are priced from $4 to $7, with the bulk hovering in the $5 range.
So far, about 75% of Coppervine’s guests are trying one of the suggested pairings with at least one course, says Sritong, who is pleased with that number. Diners may naturally order full-serve portions of any drinks they sample, as well as any wine, beer or cocktail that is not on the suggested pairings list.
A SWINGING SCENE
The atmosphere at Coppervine is contemporary and lively, Sritong says, with a vibe of urban sophistication. Butcher paper tops the tables in the two-story space, which has two small bars and a lounge in addition to 88 table seats.
Coppervine serves dinner only; the lounge is open a bit later than the kitchen for those wanting a nightcap. Overall, Coppervine’s beverage sales comprise about 47% of the total, Sritong says, with wine leading the way. Checks are averaging about $50 per person.
The pairing suggestions will change as the menu evolves with the seasons. The initial menu, designed by consulting chef and veteran restaurateur Michael Taus, offers fairly straightforward, unfussy dishes based on the classics, making pairings less complicated.
Examples from the medium and large plates include steamed mussels with chimichurri spice, dried chorizo and white-wine broth; braised Berkshire pork shoulder with artichokes, cinnamon, tomatoes and olives; and grilled striped bass with fennel, tangerines, herbed gnocchi and caperberries.
Some ingredients will change throughout the year to go with new seasonal beers as they arrive. A few of the brews suggested in colder weather from nearby Michigan microbrewers include Solitude Abbey Ale from Brewery Vivant and Boffo Brown Ale from Dark Horse Brewing, as well as a hard cider, Percheron, from Virtue.The unique pairing program requires extra staff training, Sritong admits. But employees have been enthusiastic about the concept, he adds, which makes it easier to learn about the nuances of the pairings and convey them to guests.