Twain is permanently closed
photo credit: Sandy Noto
If there’s such a thing as peak theme, then Twain in Logan Square is close to achieving it. This is a Mark Twain/Missouri/Mississippi River/mid-century-Midwestern-recipes-inspired restaurant - and if that sounds convoluted, that’s because it is. But what you really need to know about this place is that eating here is like going to an acid-fueled potluck at your Midwestern aunt’s house. Some dishes work better than others, and your overall feeling about the experience will have a lot to do with how much you appreciate Midwestern nostalgia.
Twain’s menu is very long, and much of it will make you wonder if they’re f*cking with you. For example, the “ants on a log” is celery stuffed with peanut butter duck liver mousse and topped with bourbon-soaked cherries. While the mousse itself is really good, pairing it with crunchy wet celery isn’t. There’s also a play on surf and turf consisting of unagi and meatloaf with nori onion rings and red miso mashed potatoes. It’s both tasty and perplexing, because the ingredients are well-prepared, but the idea feels forced and the texture is overwhelmingly mushy. The deep-fried green pepper rings sprinkled with powdered sugar taste fine, the way anything battered and topped with sugar would - but also like a bizarre attempt at a kind-of-healthy funnel cake. These dishes are all interesting, but seem more focused on being fun than actually being good.
Not everything on the menu is so whimsical, and it’s the less playful dishes that make Twain worth visiting even if you’ve never been to a state fair. Like the Virginia spoonbread with cider-glazed pork shoulder, which is delicious, and hearty enough to inspire you to finally find out what exactly a plowshare is. Or the fantastic bone marrow topped with sloppy joe meat that tastes like a gourmet version of Manwich. And we love the version of chicken and dumplings on the menu here - it’s rich, flavorful, and basically the epitome of American comfort food.
Twain’s theme doesn’t just apply to its menu. The large space has a vaguely river raft-y atmosphere thanks to wooden furniture and canvas chandeliers, and there’s also a big fabric mural of the Mississippi River spanning the restaurant. But if we’re talking about Midwestern stereotypes, one that’s missing here is consistent friendliness. We’ve had curt table service and 45-minute waits between courses (with no explanation), and we’ve been ignored at the host stand - all on separate visits.
Anyone who’s gone back to eating Frosted Flakes in front of the TV after a long (likely adulthood-induced) hiatus understands how something nostalgic can be deeply satisfying. And if you get excited about things like green been casserole or the “whisper” of Tupperware closing after a potluck, the food and experience at Twain will likely appeal to you. If not, while you can still have a good meal here, you might leave more confused than satisfied.
There are three different types of bread you can order here: egg harbor bread (basically just a sweet white bread), cornbread sticks, and pretzel biscuits. They’re all tasty, but the portions are small, so keep that in mind.
Ants On A Log
This feels like a gimmicky dish. It’s celery filled with peanut butter duck liver mousse, topped with bourbon-soaked cherries. If it sounds like they’re ruining perfectly good duck liver mousse with celery, that’s because they are.
This dish is delicious. It’s sloppy joe meat on top of bone marrow with white bread. Kind of like if the lunch lady became possessed by the spirit of Julia Child.
The presentation of vegetables in a flower pot is pretty funny, and we like it. What we don’t like is that some of the vegetables end up getting frozen by all the ice stuffed into said flowerpot. But the dips that come on the side (ranch, green goddess, and an aioli) are fantastic.
Fried Green Pepper Rings
Are you trolling us? You’re trolling us. (But at the end of the day, this tastes all right, like just about anything else that’s fried and covered in sugar.)
Ham And Cheese
This appetizer sounds about as creative as cold cuts at a wake. It’s literally just slices of ham and cheddar cheese on a plate. But it’s drizzled with brown butter, and the quality of the meat and cheese is high, so it’s enjoyable. Order it with the egg harbor bread and make a sandwich.
We like this a lot. The cider-glazed pork is flavorful, and the fluffy spoonbread is the perfect vehicle for it.
Pigs In A Blanquette
While this has a cutesy name, it’s actually a straightforward entree. It’s a pork chop along with some braised pork tongue and cheek, served with blanquette (a buttery herb sauce). The meat is cooked perfectly, and this tastes delicious.
Chicken & Dumplings
Saying that something tastes “homemade” isn’t always a compliment. But Twain’s chicken and dumplings dish tastes homey in the best way, and not just because it’s served in a little pot that looks like it came from an estate sale. Order this.
Surf And Turf
We’re still trying to decide how we feel about this. The meatloaf with red miso mashed potatoes and gravy tastes fantastic. And the unagi is cooked well. But why is it on our meatloaf? That existential question aside, the whole thing gets pretty mushy (including the nori-crusted onion rings). As Mark Twain once said, “The report of my love for unagi was an exaggeration.”