CHIReview

photo credit: Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Split Rail

Note:The menu at Split Rail has recently changed - we’ll be updating the review shortly.

Nostalgia is a tricky restaurant concept, since you can’t count on everyone having fond memories of a particular time period. Take the ’80s, for example. Sure, collecting Garbage Pail Kids was fun, but on the other hand, some people really resented stockpiling Chef Boyardee for the nuclear winter. Point being, you need more than a cute theme if you really want to attract people - you need food that’s good enough to stand on its own. Split Rail succeeds with this, because it’s “New Americana” menu is full of Midwestern dishes that have nostalgic touches, but also just taste good.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Physically, this place looks like a cross between a gastropub and a rec room from the ’80s. It’s dark, with shelves full of old records and houseplants you’ll worry aren’t getting enough light. And the food is similarly retro. There’s an appetizer of chips and dip that’s like something your mom might have presented when you had a friend over - but the chips are housemade and much better than Lay’s. If you have fond memories of the McDonald’s drive-thru after soccer practice, order the chicken nuggets that come with a honey-mustard sauce. (It’s disturbing how good these are - all they’re missing is the processed aftertaste of regret.) Similarly, a “loaded baked potato gnocchi” dish sounds like something stolen from a TGI Friday’s menu, but it’s fantastic - the gnocchi are pillowy and light, and they work really well with the combination of cheddar cheese, bacon, and sour cream.

Some items stray from the theme, with mixed results. The “Toast #2” has fried oysters, fig jam, and brussels sprouts, and it’s honestly just disgusting - any childhood memory of a dish like this is something you repressed a long time ago. But the lamb tartare, on the other hand, is one of the best things here, even though it’s not exactly clear why it’s on the menu.

Split Rail takes Midwestern food standbys from the ’80s/’90s-ish period and, in most cases, improves on them a whole lot. And while in general, we go out of our way not to eat Chicken McNuggets and Hamburger Helper for dinner, the food here is good enough to try at least once. You won’t be disappointed, although you may not feel the need to come back - unless you’re still trying to find a buyer for that Garbage Pail Kids collection.

Food Rundown

Chips And Dip

This appetizer sounds very simple, and on a superficial level, it is. But the super-thin housemade chips are expertly salted and fried, and the french onion dip is fresh and flavorful. It’s served with a side of trout roe, a.k.a. rec room caviar.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Chicken Nuggets

Like the kind you’d get in a Happy Meal - except these taste like they’re made from real meat. It kind of freaked us out how much we liked them.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Loaded Baked Potato Gnocchi

Gnocchi turns out to be a perfect vehicle for loaded potato toppings - which makes sense, when you think about it.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Toast # 2

This is topped with fig jam, brussels sprouts, and fried oysters, and it’s very bad. The sweetness of the jam and the funkiness of the brussels sprouts don’t go well with the oysters at all, and somehow the fact that the bread itself tastes good makes the overall dish worse.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Wild Boar Bolognese

The sauce on this tastes like it was seasoned with a Hamburger Helper spice packet. That might make it sound terrible, but clearly Split Rail has a team of scientists figuring out what makes that stuff good without being gross.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Spiced Pork And Beef Meatballs

We can’t decide if these are actually supposed to taste like meatloaf and gravy, or if the rest of the retro dishes on the menu just create that perception. The meatballs are tender and flavorful, and get an upgrade with a pumpkin romesco sauce. It’s a great dish.

Lamb Tartare

This doesn’t really go with the theme, so we figure it’s only on the menu for one reason - someone here can make a great lamb tartare. Order it.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Roasted Vegetable Medley

Broccoli is the primary ingredient in this medley, which comes with a white cheddar cheese sauce. It’s not exactly diet food, and it reminds us of a frozen Green Giant broccoli and cheese steam bag, in a bad way. It’s too heavy and doesn’t have much flavor except salt.

Fajitas, Reimagined

This sounds more like an Onion headline than something we want to eat, but the steak is cooked perfectly, it’s seasoned like fajitas, and the corn puree (a reimagined tortilla, we guess) and red pepper gelee on the plate are really good.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

A Duck In Three Acts

As you might guess based on the name, this dish has duck three ways: a roasted breast, a duck egg, and a duck leg scrumpet (that’s pressed, rolled in breadcrumbs, and fried). It’s a take on a chicken and rice dinner, and all three versions of the duck taste good, but the parsnips on the side just make us want potatoes.

Alina Tsvor

Split Rail review image

Featured in

.
The Best Restaurants In Humboldt Park guide image
Guide
The Best Restaurants In Humboldt Park

The 16 best places to eat in Humboldt Park.

The Best Bottomless Brunches In Chicago guide image
Guide
The Best Bottomless Brunches In Chicago

When your one and only weekend plan involves drinking copious amounts of prosecco.

Celebrate Chicago Pride And Support LGBTQ+ Restaurants feature image
Feature
Celebrate Chicago Pride And Support LGBTQ+ Restaurants

Some ways to celebrate Chicago Pride this year.

Chicago’s Best New Restaurants Of 2017 guide image
Guide
Chicago’s Best New Restaurants Of 2017

Our top-ranked new Chicago restaurants of the year.

Suggested Reading

.
Boeufhaus review image
8.2
Review
Boeufhaus

Boeufhaus is a different kind of Chicago steakhouse. It's small, loud, cool, and still serves excellent steaks.

The Best Chicago Restaurants For Date Night guide image
Guide
The Best Chicago Restaurants For Date Night

Our very best date night ideas.

Ideas To Break Your Routine guide image
Guide
Ideas To Break Your Routine

You go to the same places all of the time. Here are some good alternatives to break your routine.

Masa Azul review image
Review
Masa Azul

Masa Azul is a small plates Mexican restaurant in Logan Square with a large tequila selection.