Review: Young Augustine's

Southern pub food in Grant Park

One day, people will talk about Young Augustine's without mentioning the Standard. Specifically, they'll think about the pub without feeling the shudder of violence its building retains. Right now, it's still too fresh – bartender John Henderson was murdered here, and that murder, along with the economic downturn, led to the Standard's closing. But if there's a positive to come out of this whole tragic situation, it's Young Augustine's.

Opened last February by some of the Standard's owners and some former employees who bought out the other owners, Young Augustine's is a much different place than its predecessor. There's no smoking allowed. It's prettier – dark wood, large blackboards and an open room replace the fractured feel of the Standard's dining room.

The real difference, though, is in the food. The new management includes Andy Gonzales, a chef who's worked at Bluepointe, South City Kitchen, Steinbeck's and Spice Market. Gonzales' diverse background shows in the Southern- and Asian-tinged pub food that comprises Young Augustine's menu. For the most part, the influences stay to their own plates, but even when dishes do cross cultures, the mishmash works.

I'm a sucker for pimento cheese, and I'll be back at Young Augustine's in a heartbeat for its version – creamy and piquant, begging to be slathered on the airy, crusty ciabatta. But it's the dish's housemade kimchee that's the real surprise. Made with strips of daikon radish, the spicy pickle exudes a floral funk that makes it an ideal foil for its cheesy counterpart. Pickled green tomatoes and garishly pink and puckery pickled onions also appear.

Young Augustine's focuses on these types of bar food hybrids, most notably a hulking burger topped with pimento cheese and a fried egg, and a Wrigley dog that comes with all the appropriate fixins, including the neon green "crazy" relish and sport peppers (a great and filling bargain at $3). This type of Americana likely won't disappoint, but the real fun comes with the menu's Asian crossover dishes. A side of roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts arrives over aromatic white rice dressed lightly with nuoc cham, the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce. The whisper of chili, garlic and fish sauce is barely detectable, but gives the crispy-edged veggies a gobble-worthy umami edge.

I also loved the scallion pancakes, a kind of cross between latkes and the Chinese snack – shredded potato studded with scallion and drizzled with oyster sauce.

Less successful were the pork rillettes, served in a jar with the same pickle and bread accompaniment as the pimento cheese. They had great porcine flavor, but rather than the creamy consistency that's preferable with rillettes, oiliness dominated the texture. I also had textural issues with a beet salad – the fat rounds of beets sprinkled with blue cheese and bacon looked fantastic, but they were slightly overcooked, mushy in feel and flavor.

My only complaint about the entrée list is its uniform heaviness. Pork vindaloo held my attention the least – the curry was mildly spicy and pleasant, but no one flavor asserted itself. Fried chicken over grits looks kind of forlorn on the plate, but proves a worthy combo of juicy flesh shrouded in nubby, crispy skin. A side of sliced tomato offers a shot of freshness, but I do hope the tomatoes get more flavorful as summer progresses. (And that as summer wanes, Gonzales finds a seasonal replacement.)

Brisket hash looked dry but ended up being pleasingly crispy at the edges while retaining tenderness. A jumble of potatoes and shredded beef brisket topped with poached eggs and hollandaise, the hash is a gut bomb of a meal. Three bites and I was done, not for lack of interest, but from sheer richness and weight. I can't imagine a better remedy for a long night of drinking – grease, meat and egg to soak up a belly of booze. In fact, much of Young Augustine's aesthetic begs for brunch treatment. While that's not an option yet, my server said it was definitely on the horizon.

Speaking of my server, every time I dined at Young Augustine's, service was stellar, particularly when navigating the long and wide-ranging beer list. Educated without a hint of snobbery, it's nice to see a staff that can be excited about what it has to offer, from beer to dinner to a subtle, spiced caramel cake for dessert.

I walked into Young Augustine's expecting to find more middle-of-the-road pub food. What I found instead was unexpected quality on all fronts. It's natural to want positive things for a location with such a fraught history – it's downright delightful to discover a positive future that's already arrived.