|Manila clams at Sonny's Hideaway|
It can be hard figuring out what a certain location needs. In the case of Sonny's Hideaway in Highland Park, none of the earlier restaurants on York Blvd. quite clicked, but Sonny's already seems more lively than the others.
|the bar got a more clubby makeover|
Most traces of the previous cottage-style cafe are gone, and the room is less open to the street, but cozy and dimmer with oxblood leatherette semi-circle booths and a long dark wood bar. Gone too, thankfully, are the overly-friendly servers and roaming magicians of the previous spot. The cocktail menu thoughtfully includes several refreshing virgin cocktails as well as a "low ABV" section of presumably less damaging drinks. More serious drinkers shouldn't miss the Bourbon Fig Punch -- its citrusy notes work well with some of the rich, bacon-intensive dishes on the menu. Although both cocktails and menu items include all sorts of trendy ingredients from lime oil to wormwood in the drinks to bone marrow and cocoa "soil," somehow Sonny's isn't pretentious or even particularly hipsterish. It's more like a homey bar and grill that happens to have a modern and accessible menu.
A hamburger is a good test of a gastropub, and Sonny's juicy bacon burger with pickled green tomatoes ($14 with fries) doesn't hold together for long but packs a smoky jolt of flavor. No entrees top $20, and sea bass a la plancha is a good value at $19 for a nice piece of fish with cauliflower puree. Vegetarians can try ricotta dumplings with stewed tomatoes and chard, but other than soup or salad, there's not much else that's completely meatless.
Even green vegetables like Brussels sprouts or collard greens get a heavy-duty dose of applewood-smoked bacon.Manila clams with toast ($16) come in a good-sized bowl, while meatier choices include shortribs and pork shoulder with potatoes and hominy. A tender coffee-braised pork cheek appetizer with cool apple relish and honeycomb also makes a terrific petite entree, though the andouille-stuffed squid starter goes heavy on the salt.
As usual, the server recommends the bread pudding (do people really love bread pudding that much?) but a chocolate sorbet with orange custard is a lighter finish to a dinner that can tilt to the rich side, especially if you order the bone marrow hash -- and really, why wouldn't you? Sonny's may not quite be a destination spot, but it's a useful and grown-up choice in an area that's rapidly gaining a diverse selection of restaurants.
Three forks out of four