The restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart. For every big-splash, can’t-miss concept that opens to great fanfare and hour-long weekend queues, a dozen once-hot but now forgotten places quietly close their doors.
It helps, of course, to be serving a vibrant sector of the market, and the craft beer craze continues to redefine the word vibrant with each new microbrewery opening and festival announcement. It also helps to be situated in a good location, and in the Western suburbs these days, there’s hardly a more visible and explosive commercial corridor than the Freedom Drive dining and entertainment complex.
So the folks at Granite City Food & Brewery seemed to have the big things working in their favor as they hit town late last year with the latest outlet of their St. Cloud, Minnesota-based suds-and-grub chain.
Even so, Granite City had to know it wasn’t just entering a geographic space teeming with competition, but also a local market that already boasts a healthy swarm of like-minded brewpubs—you can’t roll out an empty growler in this town without hitting another place with big copper tanks in the living room window. In other words, the novelty associated with spotlighting craft beer, or doing one’s small-batch brewing onsite, has long since worn off, and new entrants to the scene are well advised to bring their “A” games.
So we were curious to see what this newcomer planned to bring to the party as we made our way to the restaurant through the maze of the ever-expanding gastronomic collection that continues to fill the plot between I-88 and Diehl Road. As a result of so much growth, navigation is getting more complex as well—from Freedom Drive, head in the direction of the Fairfield Inn to find the somewhat hidden path back to the restaurant. Fortunately, Granite City doesn’t seem like it will have trouble attracting either beer-focused connoisseurs or regular casual diners to its handsome new space, which curiously features more wood than granite.
Something for Everyone
Like most of its spiritual kin in the brewtherhood, Granite City demonstrates an egalitarian approach to its new market, treating nominal competitors more like peers and colleagues by augmenting its own line of seven to ten in-house beers with an array of local favorites. The food menu, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to want to leave anybody out either, casting a wide net that encompasses steaks, salads, seafood, flatbreads, burgers and sandwiches without giving a clear-cut preference to any one genre.
Our table turned out to be a good snapshot of this all-over-the-map philosophy, starting with the piping-hot soft pretzel sticks with a rich cheddar dipping sauce, something of a staple in the brewpub genre. From there, we moved on to mahi mahi tacos—quite good, considering that the Land of 10,000 Lakes is, puzzlingly, not known as a hotbed for fish tacos—and a margherita flatbread, loaded with impressive-for-winter tomatoes and topped by plenty of fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. We capped things off with a trio of mini desserts—brownie, chocolate chip cookie and apple cobbler—nestled in individual mini pans that recalled Easy-Bake Oven creations of yore. We were assured, however, that these had not been cooked under a 40-watt light bulb.
Like most things in life, there are no guarantees in the restaurant business, but as far as concept and execution go, Granite City feels like a fairly sound investment for both the chain and the hungry citizens of Naperville.
Granite City Food & Brewery
1828 Abriter Court