This past April, I ventured to Chicago. My mission? Sightsee all the things and eat my way through Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Today’s post I go in search of the perfect beer and sandwich to pair with McAnally’s name. I will cover similar looking bars, as well as several nearby attractions to all three that the Dresden Files fans will find interesting. Finally, I will also share a new take on my recipe for Mac’s Steak Sandwich.
Strap in, folks. This is gonna be a long post.
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Jim Butcher describes McAnally’s Pub as a low-ceilinged old world-style tavern of sorts covered in wood paneling, surrounding a crooked bar, and containing and thirteen of everything. It also dwells under the street level in a building’s basement.
There are a couple of places I found listings for that could fit, none of which are underground. But these are following are the ones I had a chance to stop by.
Duke of Perth
While certainly brighter lit than Mac’s cave-like interior, this Clark Street dwelling Scottish pub has a cozy sense of community. Duke of Perth‘s walls also bear a resemblance to Mac’s in it’s muted sea green and blue hues, trimmed by rails of stained hardwood, and tastefully adorned with antiques.
I admittedly chose to visit this place as it seemed where Ebenezer McCoy would stop by if he wanted a good dram without traipsing back through the Never Never to Edinburgh. Speaking of good drams, this place has Scotch whiskey ale in spades, the most extensive list in town reportedly. I digress, though.
What I really want to talk about is their food. Think of some bar favorites: onion rings and chili nachos. Now picture them if made by a Scotsman with none of those things in his pantry. The result would probably taste like Duke of Perth’s Haggis Pot and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Leek sticks.
Like a Hebridean version of chili queso, the haggis pot’s ground sirloin bears a strong flavor resemblance to its namesake. But this haggis also drowns under a bed of caramelized onions, whiskey sauce, and cheese. Its accompanying oatcakes are thin and perfect for excavating this melty goodness, and definitely more flavorful than a tortilla chip. The leek sticks are crispy, beer-battered, and just as addictive as onion rings.
The staff, while significantly more talkative than Mac, are friendly and welcoming of both strangers and regulars. This is the sort of place where everyone knows your name.
Wrigley Field, Lincoln Park Zoo, Belmont Harbor, Lincoln Park Conservatory
This Loop-dwelling pub and restaurant is an excellent place for lunch after touring downtown attractions like the Millenium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Pedway. Miller’s Pub’s interior, though, looks like if Mac’s place if he had partnered with Disney and ESPN to open another location for the tourists.
A Chicago institution since 1935, Miller’s definitely has the old world style wood paneling that resounds with Mac’s aesthetic. This pub kicks it up another notch, though, with high, faux tin-lined ceilings, stained glass booth dividers, oil-painted portraiture, and ragtime music wafting from hidden speakers.
Kitsch aside, the service is impeccable yet unpretentious. I didn’t choose the place for just the look and service, though. I picked it for the steak sandwich, which I’ll describe further down.
Millennium Park, The Tiffany Dome, and the Chicago Pedway.
I recommend booking a tour for the latter during a weekday, though. The Pedway, attributed to being “Undertown” from the Dresden Files, can be confusing and a little scary while wandering where the homeless sometimes camp during cold weather.
Built in the ’50s and expanded bit by bit, the Pedway boasts of tunnels running under the streets and connecting between several train stations and buildings. Some areas are pretty, like the stained glass gallery next to Macy’s. Some are unsettling. Book a tour or plan a couple of hours to explore this maze of vinyl tiled tunnels.
So one big difference between Chicago and Atlanta I noticed was a mass transit system that actually makes sense. It’s possible to visit 3 to 5 different breweries in different parts of the city, sample 4 to 6 beers at each, and do so in a single day while also sightseeing and eating tasty food.
Because of this, I had the chance to try out six breweries in search of McAnally’s perfect beer while I was in town. I’ll document as many as I can through the next few posts. The following beers and breweries, I feel, encompass the character of McAnally’s brew the best.
Off Color Brewing
Adal Rifai of Improv Comedy Podcast “Hello from the Magic Tavern” suggested this brewery to me when I told him about my trip. I’m grateful he did. The beer here is so good it’s criminal. I know this because I tipsily scrawled this underneath my notes:
“I feel like I’ve been wandering in a desert of mediocre brews and now realize I’ve been deprived of Ale-vana.”
I’m not the only one who agrees. Long tables filled with 20 and 30-somethings spanned the expanse of the Mouse Trap tap-room the Friday evening we went. Crowded, but not cramped, I don’t care. I could wear earphones as long as the beer keeps flowing.
Speaking of beer, the nerd in you will appreciate fun beer names like Dino Smores, Hellbroth, and Known Gnome. The Dresden nerd in you will love the fact that they also have a beer, Tooth & Claw, inspired by Sue the Dinosaur from the Field Museum. But the closest ones to Mac’s beer in flavor that I found were Class War and Myshka.
Myshka, labeled as a “Russian Serf Stout,” had a toasty chocolate note, lager feel, and a tobacco smoke finish.
Class War, on the other hand, held the balance very noted in a Mac beer. It is a dark, creamy brew with a velvety mouthfeel perfect for sipping at room temperature. Based on an indigenous Swedish farmhouse ale, this beer espoused honey undertones with a touch of juniper. I feel that Mac would not only have access to these old recipes but reinvent them like the brewers of Off Color Brewing did.
In addition to these, I would also recommend Dino Smores. While it has the scent of chocolate and graham cracker, marshmallow is the first thing you taste as this ode to scout camp fills your senses.
The iO Theatre is across the street if you are a fan of improv comedy. This place is home to Whirled News Tonight, the improve news show starring a host of Chicago’s best improv actors including Adal Rifai (Chunt) and Brooke Breit (Flower) from Hello from the Magic Tavern.
Part of me wishes I had visited this brewery earlier in the trip so my husband could help me try all the beers. Either that or I wish I visited this place earlier in the day. That way, I’d have time to slowly sip and snack my way through Revolution’s high gravity selections. Word of advice: Do not visit this place on an empty stomach. You’ve been warned.
Open Wednesday through Sunday of the week, the Kedzie Avenue Brewery and Taproom offers tours, pours, and shuffleboards. Bring or order your own snacks, because when the beer averages $2 a sample, the temptation to order every brew on the menu is irresistible. I know, I tried 6 different beers and had to force myself to stop if I was going to make it to dinner that evening.
So out of the six I’ve tried, these are the ones I feel that would be very at home in McAnally’s Pub:
Smash the Windows – This is a nitro with light, roast-y notes of raisin and cocoa. With a silky mouthfeel, this brew is exceptionally smooth and not overly heavy. Don’t know if Mac could make a nitro with all the magical energies flying about, but this stuff would well with a steak sandwich without putting you to sleep.
Eugene – Tastes of dark chocolate malt with a hint of bittersweet caramel. I’d say it is a powerful contender for Mac’s beer since it’s neither too sweet nor too bitter. Also, the taste only improved as it warmed up, which checks off McAnally’s tendency to serve beer at room temperature.
Cafe Deth – This is definitely a Red Court beer. As an oatmeal stout that is straight-up coffee, chocolate, and chili pepper, I would say that the name is more than appropriate.
Filibuster – This is a wheat-wine in the sweetest sense. Aging it in bourbon barrels manifested this brew’s vanilla notes, but Filibuster seems less of a beer and more of a nectar. That said, the fae count themselves among Mac’s clientele. This brew would serve them nicely.
Straight Jacket – So this was the first line of my notes on this beer: “It might be the filibuster going to my head, but my mouth has a happy. Tasty, tasty barleywine.” I would also like to note that I tweeted the following while drinking this:
But tipsiness aside, this was a tasty, tasty barleywine that would be a fitting special occasion Mac beer — good for changeling customers. You know, the ones who need a potent kick of alcohol to feel anything while being hit with the flavors of molasses, vanilla, and coconut.
Little Bucharest (Romanian restaurant that I will cover in a later post), Logan Square station and park, and Ignite Gaming Lounge.
My husband and I found our way to this brewery after a failed attempt to visit Graceland Cemetary (closes at 4, people!). Greenstar is the first organic brewery in the state of Illinois. You can taste it in these phenomenal beers that are not only organic but are also vegan, and have had their gluten removed.
Entering Greenstar, you will find an atmosphere of warm colors and eclectic artwork adorning the walls. Perhaps it’s much more appropriate to the summer court than Mac’s cave of beery wonders. It’s more than welcome, though, to the person who braved the chilly winds of Clark Street during an early April cold snap to get there.
My only regret is that we didn’t make room for dinner as delicious scents of fresh ingredients swelled from the kitchen. But we came for the beer, and these were three that reminded me of McAnally’s brew the most:
Resonance – An Indian brown ale, complex without being overwhelmingly so. The most potent notes you will get are roasted toffee tempered with almond and a bit of citrus.
Apparent Magnitude – An American stout with roasted barley, coffee, and chocolate. This brew is packed with roast-y, malty goodness without all the heaviness associated with a stout. This is a perfect beer for the casual drinker at Mac’s.
Moonless Midnight – Probably the smoothest stout I’ve ever tasted, rich and sweet with vanilla and caramel. It tastes more like a Trappist Belgian ale than a stout. I am not complaining.
That said, there were other beers listed on the website I wanted to try that could fit the bill like Greenstar Mild, Monk’s Libation, and Spicy Monk. They were not available at the time, but now I have another few reasons to stop by on my next visit to Chicago.
Otherworld Theatre, Graceland Cemetary, and Wrigley Field. I really recommend a stop to the first two if you are a nerd visiting Chicago.
Otherworld Theatre is a science fiction and fantasy theatre company and bar located on Clark Street. The two-stage theater hosts productions such as outer space versions of greek tragedies, improvised Dungeons & Dragons, and Nerdlesque shows. The lobby and bar itself is a geek’s paradise with fandom-themed drinks, Hogwarts house banners, and busts of mythical creatures.
Further up the street, you will find the entrance to Dresden’s final resting place, Graceland Cemetary. Make sure to get a map from the office on the right past the gates as it’s easy to get lost among the looping paths. Not to say that you won’t find plenty of landmarks here. You can really see everything from Egyptian-style pyramids and obelisks, to neo-classical columns, to art deco and nouveau metalwork.
Famous figures such as Cyrus McCormick and Pinkerton find their eternal rest here. There are plenty more people to name. Though I did stop at the grave of Kate Warne, Pinkerton’s first female detective, to thank her for her service. It almost felt like I was paying homage to Murphy’s role model.
When I arrived at Inez Clark’s grave, reportedly in the area of Dresden’s tombstone, it was a sobering and eerie experience. Piles of coins line her stone, and wind chimes sing from an opposite tree as her marble eyes seem to follow your every move.
The rest of the cemetery is nothing less than breathtaking, and the quiet lends itself to help one notice moments both human and non-human. Planes fly overhead, and trains pass by, casting shadows upon the crypts’ stained glass windows. A brown fox even crossed my path up ahead before losing himself again in the granite and marble forest.
In my research, this was the food item that eluded me the most. True, the first year I started this blog, I made a version of McAnally’s steak sandwich that still remains my most viewed recipe to date. Having never been to Chicago until now, though, I wanted to make something fitting to the city.
Luckily you Dresden Files fans also love your speculation and research. Thanks to a Facebook thread on the Jim Butcher Idolization Tribe, I found out that the Chicago style pub steak sandwich is nothing like a Steak Philly. Instead of shredded steak, a whole steak is served on french bread with cheese. The Chicago native who told us this also said that this style isn’t served as commonly as it used to be.
I found two that may fit the bill, though.
Brehon Pub’s Steak Sandwich
At Brehon Pub the beer selection is heavily on the IPA side, and nineties music plays on the radio station. But you will find that this neighborhood sports bar serves a solidly good steak sandwich.
Half-inch thick grilled and seasoned sirloin is stacked in two layers with provolone and caramelized onion. This all rests on top of a bed of tomato, lettuce, and chipotle mayo to slow its inevitable sogginess.
Each bite is juicy and delicious with the right mix of flavors and textures that don’t overpower the beef. This would be a very good Mac sandwich, maybe not entirely accurate, but suitable for a quick lunch before the next stop on your trip.
Speaking of next stops on your trip, there isn’t much sightseeing within walking distance, but there are two metro stations that surround this well-worn pit stop. Chicago station on the Brown line and Chicago station on the Red line are only a short jaunt away.
Miller’s Pub’s Sirloin Sandwich
I feel that this sandwich is the McAnally steak sandwich you are looking for. Grilled to medium-rare perfection, this 3/4″-thick sirloin simply melts in your mouth with each bite. Its meatiness is only enhanced by a layer of gooey mozzarella and crushed and toasted garlic bread.
There is horseradish cream, arugula, and tomato on the side. You don’t need it. Though it pairs nicely with the perfect fries they come with — crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, hand-cut, and lightly salted. The basics don’t get any better than this.
See Miller’s Pub description above.
McAnally’s Steak Sandwich — Revisited
So before I go into this recipe, I want to tell you some of the differences I’ve made on this redux of McAnally’s steak sandwich. The first incarnation I used skirt steak, mushrooms, shallots, and asiago cheese on slices of sourdough. Today’s recipe is a little more of an homage to my time in Chicago where I use sirloin, caramelized onion, sliced mozzarella, horseradish mayo, and garlic powder on french bread.
Like my other blog recipes this year, this recipe is free to access on the blog at any time. Just scroll down. However this week I will have a printable PDF recipe card and cook-along Spotify playlist available for a $2 donation on my Ko-fi account. Or you can join my Patreon community at the It’s All in the Cards level or higher ($5/month) for access to all of my blog post recipe cards and playlists.
In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this dining and sightseeing guide. Stay tuned next month for my next Dining in Dresden’s Chicago guide: Toot Toot’s Magical Pizza Truck.
McAnally's Steak Sandwich
Equipment: Stovetop, gallon-sized ziplock bag, cast iron skillet, grill pan, tongs, cutting board, cooking spray, aluminum foil, spatula.
- 1 lb top sirloin steak, 3/4″ thick and sliced into two steaks
- 12 oz. American or oatmeal stout (we used New Holland’s The Poet)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 tablespoon shredded fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon (or 4-5 cloves) of minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, sliced into rings
- 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 2 french rolls or a 16 oz. loaf of french bread sliced in half
- 8 slices of mozzarella cheese
- kosher salt
- Pour the stout, olive oil, herbs, and garlic into the ziplock bag and swish around to mix. Place the steaks inside the bag and seal to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
- Before cooking the steak the following day, remove the meat from the bag and dry with paper towels. Allow it to come to room temperature while preparing the onions.
- Heat the skillet over a medium-high flame and add the butter to melt. When foaming, stir in the onions and cook for 8 minutes.
- Pour the marinade into the skillet and lower the heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, then pour in the remaining marinade. Continue to simmer and stir until the liquid has mostly cooked off. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Spray the grill pan with cooking spray, then heat it on the stovetop until it’s too hot to hold your hand over the grate for more than one second. Butterfly the rolls with a bread knife and toast the cut side on the grill for 1 minute on each roll.
- Liberally season both sides of the steaks with kosher salt and garlic powder. When the grill pan is hot again add the steaks and grill for 1 minute and 45 seconds on each side. Transfer the steaks to the cutting board and top with two slices of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil to melt and keep warm.
- Spread horseradish mayo on the cut sides of the bread and season with garlic powder and more kosher salt if desired. Place two more slices of cheese on the bottom of the rolls. Cover the cheese with a layer of onions, then top it with the steak and another layer of onions.
- Slice the sandwiches in half with a bread knife and serve immediately with a pint of beer.