WESTMONT – After recently celebrating its second anniversary, Neat Kitchen + Bar has become a Westmont success story.
Anchoring the northern boundary of downtown Cass Avenue, Neat makes lunch and dinner available six days per week, with Sundays reserved for private parties.
Perfect for couples, small groups or families, Neat was opened by Jason Van Lente and Mike Cairo, who both learned the trade at several previous Chicago area destinations and have created an urban feel in the midst of suburbia. The polished cement floor, retro lighting fixtures and reclaimed furnishings accent this design concept.
Neat features three distinct dining areas, which can be combined into varying sized private dining areas – think Christmas parties, birthday parties, showers, rehearsal dinners, etc., as well as a spacious full-service bar area complete with large-screen televisions and a nice craft and draft beer selection, with more than 150 entries.
Neat also is known throughout the Chicago area as a whiskey destination, with more than 300 currently on the shelves. Samplers of beer or whiskey are available, and the custom whiskey cube maker is a unique bar amenity. Specialty cocktails rotate through wood casks, while a 30-day aging process smooths out the flavors.
The standard menu features plenty of options that only increase with a daily specials addendum
Starters include a Jamon Serrano plate with paper-thin, sliced Iberian ham paired with house-made mustard, pickled red onion and a crusty, lightly charred French bread. Paired with a beverage, it’s a great start, with each layer providing a distinct flavor evoking memories of the Barcelona street scene. The saltiness and velvety texture of the ham combine with the spice of the mustard, crunch of the pickled onions and char of the bread to create a perfect starter. Previous renditions have featured Benton’s ham from Madisonville, Tenn., and their bacon will be featured on an upcoming menu update.
The pork belly is nestled in steamed, pillowy buns with green onion, pickled cucumber and hoisin sauce. While the pork belly provides the dominant flavor, each ingredient adds to the overall taste experience. Pickled cucumbers along with other condiments are made in-house.
The grilled asparagus dish is bathed in miso hollandaise and topped with a perfectly cooked fried duck egg.
Homemade chili and several soups and salads lend added dimension to the menu.
While the beer, potato and cheddar soup with BrewDog 5amSaint beer, bacon, croutons and green onions was a tempting choice, I selected the Neat Cobb, which is served chopped style and tossed with a roasted garlic ranch. Ingredients include blackened chicken, crunchy bacon and seasoned croutons, avocado, tomato and blue cheese chunks. This is an entrée size salad or easily shared by a table of four. The salad is available with dressing on the side for those so inclined.
Sized perfectly for sharing as an appetizer or a lighter entrée choice, the filet mignon sliders were accompanied by fried shallots and served on a pillowy-soft brioche bun. They were perfectly cooked to order and had a nice grill flavor.
Lunch and dinner selections include several sandwich options like my favorite Short Rib Grilled Cheese, as well as more robust main items such as skirt steak, crab cakes or various fish selections. There is also a playful selection of tacos with specialty ingredients constantly rotating.
Burgers are a Neat specialty and feature 10 ounces of protein, which allows for perfectly cooked-to-order burgers. The Neatburger comes with cheddar, crispy shallots, a fried duck egg and kewpie mayo. Meanwhile, the stuffed Blue Burgers and Short Rib Burgers created difficult ordering decisions. Burgers come with fries or chips. Diners can upgrade to sweet potato fries, side salads or side dishes for a small upcharge.
The Iowa White chop was a thick cut, bone-in juicy cut served atop braised kale that was stewed with Vidalia onions and bacon. While a steak knife was provided for ease, this was melt-in-your-mouth smoothness. The peaches were pickled with a slight kick and provided a beautiful contrasting texture and smoothness to the chop.
We chose to supplement our dinner with Brussels sprouts, currently a menu favorite throughout Chicago. Neat’s version is fried with a Pan Pacific mix of ginger, scallion and soy. The Asian mix pairs beautifully with the charred sprouts. Other side dishes included grilled asparagus or brocollini as well as a cauliflower dish and loaded baked potato.
Desserts are flourishing as Laura Fleming recently joined the NEAT team (formerly from La La Li Patisserie), and is cranking out fantastic desserts in addition to her specialty cakes and cookies for weddings, showers, etc.
The blueberry cheesecake was served just below room temperature and had a slightly caramelized crust. It was topped with a blueberry-citrus drizzle and whipped cream. The berry bread pudding was warmed, allowing the caramel sauce and vanilla bean gelato to coat each spoonful. Both desserts vanished in minutes.
The downtown Westmont location has provided front-row seating for the Taste of Westmont and the summer Thursdays Cruising Nights car shows. In turn, the added exposure has helped promote Neat and get the word out, with return diners being in a high percentage. There is limited outdoor seating in front, an adjacent private parking lot and plenty of street parking. Christmas and holiday parties are easily accommodated with the variable floor plan.
Neat continues to evolve with a new menu featuring local and seasonal specialties along with next-generation upgrades to the back of the house, including a new in-house computer system, website and mobile app in their future plans. Not to worry, all my favorites will make the cut, and while you could wait, food and service this good require multiple visits.
A nice addition to the downtown Westmont restaurant scene, Neat truly is the place to eat!
Neat Kitchen + Bar
WHERE: 246 N. Cass Ave., Westmont
HOURS: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
DRESS CODE: Casual
INFO: 630-568-8688, www.neatkitchenandbar.com
BATHROOMS: Tidy and clean
NOISE FACTOR: Medium buzz