Hard Rock Cafe Test Kitchen menu review: heaps of Chicago inspiration, loads of delicious food!

The folks over at Hard Rock Cafe surely work hard to please! They want to know what music you like, the first live concert you went to, and what you make of their dishes – and they want your feedback delivered raw, spontaneously, and straight to their faces. I definitely like this no-nonsense approach: what’s better than an honest opinion, delivered on the spot? I like the approach – and I like the HRC food even more 😉

I recently got the chance to taste several dishes from the Hard Rock Cafe Chicago Test Kitchen menu, which showcases HRC’s commitment to locally inspired and responsibly sourced ingredients. It was an amazing night, filled with good jokes, great food, and karaoke performances – and here’s my review of this experience. HRC Chicago is part of a group of carefully selected Hard Rock Cafes worldwide which offer a Test Kitchen menu, made up of dishes brimming with local ingredients, prepared in ways that respectfully mirror the location. Once HRC guests try out the food, they are encouraged to provide feedback – and this is actually what fellow bloggers and I were asked to do at the media tasting. HRC Chicago has worked hard to showcase “local flavor, one mouthwatering bite at a time,” and in its effort to innovate popular HRC dishes, it has forged partnerships with local food&beverage icons such as Turano Baking Co. and Goose Island.

The restaurant was welcoming and the atmosphere relaxed when I got there. Dishes ready to look picture perfect? Check! Ice sculpture waiting for its time in the spotlight? Check again!

Spicy cauliflower wings, anyone?

If I were to pick my favorite dish of the night, I would choose the Chicago Italian Beef Flatbread. Shredded aromatic beef, romano cheese, giardiniera and roasted red peppers (yay!) sat pretty on crispy Turano flatbread and delivered layer upon layer of delightful taste, with the giardiniera being the dominant element. This flatbread is Chicago in a nutshell – in very few words and many delicious bites!

I also thoroughly enjoyed the locally sourced grilled walleye filet. The fish was topped with herb garlic butter and served with rosemary roasted red potatoes and farm fresh asparagus, and its charred flavor left a lasting impression on me, an otherwise self-confessed lover of all things beef. The memory of this flaky, moist and impeccably grilled fish has been with me ever since:

Moving on, the next dish I tried was a pulled pork sandwich made with slow-smoked in-house pork slathered in Carolina barbecue sauce, complemented by Carolina slaw, and delivered inside a freshly baked brioche bun. One guest who was originally from Carolina remarked that more sauce should have been used to replicate the taste and feel of Carolina pulled pork. I found his comments very useful, and so did the HRC staff – after all, the provision of feedback was one of the main reasons we had gathered there in the first place.

I was looking forward to sampling the quintessential HRC food – burgers – and they did not disappoint. We were served the Original Legendary Burger, made with Certified Angus Beef, with smoked bacon, melted cheddar, onion ring, lettuce and tomato. Next to it on the plate was the Chicago Pizza Local Legendary Burger, yet another display of the Test Kitchen locally sourced&locally inspired philosophy at work. Topped with house-made pizza sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni and Italian sausage, the burger delivered a good dose of Chicago-based flavors, which went along nicely with the succulent Certified Angus Beef patty. What can be more reminiscent of Chicago than that? 🙂

By that point, I had absolutely no room left for dessert, yet I simply couldn’t resist the aptly named Stairway to Heaven. Starring fresh fruit trapped between layers of sponge cake, married with Oreo-covered vanilla ice cream and steeped in caramel sauce and chocolate syrup, this dessert was rich, decadent and every bit as enticing as the dishes that had preceded it. It was the perfect end to my meal:

I left Hard Rock Cafe happy with the food I had tasted and with the showcasing of local talent & flavors I had encountered. I am always pleased to meet chefs who are committed to their craft and informed by a desire to celebrate culinary proximity in all its shapes and sizes. You know me: I am an Italian food aficionada through and through. At Hard Rock Cafe, I discovered that taking a break from routine food choices is a good thing to do from time to time – and that burgers can get pretty sophisticated, and stairways to Heaven truly inspirational 🙂

*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.


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