Downtown Culver City. Less than a decade ago, it was blight on the culinary landscape; a wasteland for foodies. But the map has changed since then. There are several quality restaurants and a thriving cultural scene. One of the reasons for the turnaround is Rush Street. For more than three years, the two-story indoor/outdoor restaurant has been the hottest spot in an increasingly attractive city.
Step off Washington Boulevard into Rush Street and there, under the high wood-beamed ceiling, amid the exposed brick walls, you will find yourself in the heart of Chicago. Have a seat at the 35-foot single-slab poured concrete bar and you can practically hear the L-train as you enjoy one of the finest selections of microbrews around and a more-than-ample stock of traditional and artisanal liquors.
Chi-town native Brian McKeaney teamed up with TV and film producer Ken Kaufman to turn a former sign shop into an authentic Windy City dining experience. Whether it's lunch, brunch, dinner or after-hour drinks, Rush Street draws locals and out-of-towners alike with its robust American gastropub fare.
"You can't be all things to all people," McKeaney says, "But we try."
The patio is to place to be at lunch, where you can enjoy some California sunshine with your mesquite turkey burger. Inside you'll find a wide selection of tall tables that allow for a social, barroom-like experience. For those who prefer a bit more intimacy, the elevated king-size booths provide a nice perch from which to take it all in.
But that's only half the picture -- upstairs, things really heat up. The second-floor lounge is a late-night rendezvous for a diverse crowd, including singles and couples, college students, movie industry types from nearby Sony Pictures, out-of-towners and locals from the neighborhood, who converge here for its party vibe.
Thursday through Saturday, a DJ will be pumping out tunes near the upstairs bar and the dance floor can get pretty crowded. And inevitably, after a few drinks, someone is going to find her way to the stripper pole ("The best 12 bucks we ever spent," Kaufman says). After the show, you may need a smoke. Just step out onto the city's only rooftop patio. There are sofas and pillows, and a tent is provided during the rare rainy days.
But a trip to Rush Street is not complete until you've sunk your teeth into executive chef Dave Northrup's culinary creations. One of the most popular starters is lobster & shrimp eggrolls, served with a trio of dipping sauces or the sweet red pepper and walnut dip - flavors vibrant and bold. A house specialty is the sliders, of which there are a few different types, and all of them are fantastic.
For a true taste of Chicago, try the smoked baby back ribs served with corn pudding. The flat iron steak cooked a true medium rare will satisfy the carnivore in you. It pairs well with the truffle asiago fries or sweet potato fries. And if it is tender white meat you're in the mood for, the brick-roasted chicken is a juicy and flavorful, and served with asparagus, spinach and mashed potatoes. The pumpkin ravioli is one of the best you'll find. Another can't-miss is the baked macaroni and cheese, which is golden and crisped on the outside, as it overflows the bowl. It's as indulgent as an afternoon nap on a weekday. On the lighter side, the marinated jumbo shrimp salad is a sensory overload.
The portions are generous without being overwhelming. There are a variety of small plates, starters and sides, which are perfect for sharing. This is the kind of place that is fun to bring a group of friends and order a tableful of food to enjoy family style.
As much as anything else it may be, Rush Street is an event location. It seems there is no holiday that is not celebrated with food and drink specials, festive décor and waitresses in sexy costumes. St. Patrick's Day, easily the most important drinking day on the calendar, is no exception. The city's mayor, Micheal O'Leary (a Dubliner and owner of Joxer Daly's Irish pub, farther west on Washington), dropped in for a green beer this past St. Paddy's.
The holiday menu included traditional Irish favorites. I enjoyed the potato leek soup along with a corned beef sandwich, topped with sauerkraut and melted cheese. Pigs-in-blankets were also being served.
Additionally, several Irish drink specials were available, including a half-dozen Irish beers. After three different varieties of Jameson (including the gold reserve, which won my informal taste test), a friend (Gigi, the other member of my foursome without vehicular responsibilities) and I each threw back a shamrock shot: like the lore-rich clover, it was composed of four parts -- Jameson, Midori, Kahlua and Bailey's.
St. Paddy's Day is not just any holiday; it also happens to be my birthday. And there's no place (well, maybe not NO place -- Paris, Prague, Rome, Barcelona, Fiji, Tahiti, Jamaica, Bali -- but you get the point) that I'd rather spend it than Rush Street.