An Old-Fashioned Spot

January 2024 View more

By Phil Vettel

Maize + Mash boasts a diverse menu—and a big bourbon list

From left: Maize + Mash burger, kung pao cauliflower, shawarma bowl, and lomo saltado
Maize + Mash, 430 N. Main St., Glen Ellyn. From left: Maize + Mash burger, kung pao cauliflower, shawarma bowl, and lomo saltado

The love of fine bourbon has cemented more than a few friendships and partnerships over the years, but a handful of west suburban restaurateurs have made it their defining brand.

Bourbon Belly Hospitality comprises five restaurants in Glen Ellyn, Geneva, and Wheaton, all of which boast bourbon lists that would be the envy of any collector. “It started with our first restaurant, Barrel + Rye in Geneva,” says executive chef Nick Roberge. “That was in 2014, and [bourbon lists were] becoming prevalent in the area, specifically in the city. When I developed the concept, I wanted bourbon to be a focal point and part of our identity.”

And that was just the beginning. “Over time, the more sales you have, the more rare bourbons you can buy,” Roberge says. “Our beverage director [Garrett Turnquist, who oversees all five restaurants] has really worked hard to expand our program.”

Um, mission accomplished. At Maize + Mash, the six-year-old Glen Ellyn restaurant I visited, nearly 125 bourbons are available by the pour, from a $10 Michter’s to a $100 Pappy Van Winkle (23-year) to a super-rare OFC (Old Fashioned Copper) whose price I won’t quote for fear of scaring the unprepared.

Inside Maize + Mash

As for the food, Maize + Mash posits itself as an American Bistro, but the menu is remarkably diverse, hitting points on the map like some kind of culinary Dora the Explorer. “There’s nothing we say ‘no’ to,” says culinary director Eric Olson. “We try to lean into the chefs’ expertise, where they’ve been and what they’re into, and create with them.”

This collaborative approach creates dishes such as the Nashville hot chicken bao, an appetizer that’s a four-nation head-scratcher—until you eat it. Fried, spicy chunks of Nashville-style chicken rest on a bao bun along with poblano-pepper slaw and sambal aïoli. While the dish lacks the lethality of some other Nashville chicken I’ve tried, it delivers plenty of heat, along with crunch and flavor.

Another lively treat is the kung pao cauliflower, a vegetarian option that tosses cauliflower tots in hot sauce, then adds sautéed peppers, cashews, sesame, scallions, and jasmine rice.

The shawarma bowl lays out spiced chicken thighs, zhug-seasoned couscous, pickled bell peppers, and tahini yogurt in discrete piles; grab a piece of naan bread and build your own adventure. And the kitchen does a fine lomo saltado, Peruvian-style skirt steak (perfectly grilled) with aji amarillo crema, shishito peppers, and fries.

The liquor offered at Maize + Mash

As much as I applaud the seven-time-zones creativity, the pub-food staples are where you’ll find the kitchen’s best efforts (except for that lomo saltado, which is excellent). The Maize + Mash burger, an eight-ounce blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib meat is first-rate, with toppings (caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyère, fried egg, pickle aïoli) that play nicely together. Ditto for the short rib grilled cheese with red-onion marmalade and horseradish aïoli.

Mussels in smoked-tomato cream and bits of andouille sausage is simple perfection, the single best dish I tried. Short-rib poutine, with white-cheddar curds and red-wine sauce, is messy but yummy. And the kitchen makes a fine Scotch egg, a soft-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and coated with panko bread crumbs, served over kohlrabi-apple slaw.

Dining at Maize + Mash is comfortable and laid back. On the main floor, raised-height, wooden tables line up opposite the long bar, while plank-wood floors, pressed-tin ceilings, and shelves stacked haphazardly with books complete the overall vibe of a neighborhood tavern. “I feel at Maize + Mash,” Roberge says, “you’d want to have an old-fashioned in your hand.”

Scotch egg

Either that, or whatever the cocktail of the month might be. All the group’s restaurants contribute 10 percent of cocktail-of-the-month sales to a designated charity (which changes monthly; in November, it was DuPage’s Toys for Tots drive). Ditto for the burger of the month, though not every restaurant features one.

Bourbon Belly’s other restaurants include Barrel + Rye and the Burger Local, both in Geneva, and the Burger Social in Wheaton. The concept the group is most excited about is Proof No. 5, which opened last summer in Wheaton. Proof aims to be a bit more elevated than its corporate siblings, stepping up the menu and wine list. “More than any other [restaurant], customers comment that is the most city-like restaurant we have in our group,” said director of operations James Larson. “And that’s our mission: to bring big-city dining to the suburbs.”


Photos: Chrystl Roberge