Charlatan is basically the Midwest in a nutshell, or at least that's the effect meat, carbs, beer, and dead animal heads have on us. We recently hit it up on a cold Tuesday night, and even though it was kind of empty when we got there, the place blew up by around 8 p.m. Granted, Charlatan is the new kid to the scene, but we think it'll make friends just fine. The guys behind Three Aces have had success before, and with Charlatan, they took a bit of the Three Aces vibe and turned it into more of a restaurant than bar.
The menu is dominated by a number of attention-grabbing pasta dishes that you have the option of ordering half or whole. No matter which you order, expect a lot of real earthy and gamey flavors that will be the most enjoyable part of your meal. As practical as the pastas are, the real eye candy can be found at the bottom of the menu under a section appropriately titled "You + Me," which is code for: "here's a whole f*cking pig head." And if that's too crazy for you, there's a slightly less ridiculous whole oxtail available too. The sight of it all is probably more pleasing than the taste, but that's really more a nod to the absurdity of the two dishes than it is a total knock against the flavors of the food.
The place itself is begging you to eat and drink too much. Between the dishes and decor, we found ourselves thinking this would be an ideal place to get snowed in. Stone walls, wood tables, and giant animal heads give Charlatan a type of designer hunting lodge feel. On top of it all, the staff is cheerful and helpful too. They are good about answering questions, whether you're curious about beer specials or food, and they definitely pushed us into ordering the whole oxtail the first time we went. Can't say we were mad.
If you want to know what Charlatan is all about, look no further than the sign by the kitchen and bathroom doors: "Che Cazzo fai?," which in Italian loosely translates to "what the f*ck are you doing."
So, what are you doing? Take the bull by the horns, and by bull we mean pig head.
A little on the charred and rubbery side. We'd probably skip it if you gave us a do-over.
A nice curveball in what should otherwise be a meat and pasta-heavy meal. Get involved with this farro salad that has a good mix of squash, charred scallions, arugula, mint, and olive oil.
The pastas should be the focus of your meal, even if you decide to go with one of the crazy portions of pig parts too. Rabbit Casoncelli, Sweet Potato Agnolotti, and the Black Kale Spaghettini are the highlights for us, but we fully support ordering any of the other pasta dishes that appeal to you. The option of half or whole portions makes it easy to try more than one or two.
A whole oxtail with a mountain of mashed potatoes and some toasted bread for good measure. The meat is tender once you scrape it off the bone, but there's only so much of it you can realistically eat. Definitely a dish best shared amongst a few.
Is a full pig's face practical for dinner? Debatable. But that's for you to decide. Behold...