You can't miss them. The new Arbor Gate Towers are an imposing presence looming over the Todd Drive interchange with the Beltline. At the ground floor, like a cornerstone, sits Bonfyre American Grille. The interior of this boisterous restaurant is centered on the bar, which takes up close to half the place. There's an aisle of cloistered booths on one side of the bar, and an open-concept table section fills the other.
Interior decor is, predictably, fiery and replete with earth tones. But when the menu comes, you see that Bonfyre is much more than a pyrocentric theme park. There is significance to the menu, a confidence in the meat selections from land and sea, and a balance of quirky and humble offerings. The Old Fashioned's menu feels this way, too, which can only be a good sign for Bonfyre.
The starter menu ranges from straightforward, with items like the chicken wings and frito misto (resto-Italian for "fried calamari and shrimp"), to a little more haute - shoestring fries with truffle oil and a garlic aioli.
But the Maytag blue cheese potato chips are the guilty showstopper. The chips are hand-cut, and both as tall and as good as the mighty Nakoma nachos at the Great Dane. Carr Valley and Roth Käse are among the cheese board options - further proof that Bonfyre takes its cheeses seriously. And for those seeking smaller portions, many starters can be ordered as sides.
The centerpiece of the Bonfyre kitchen is, as you might expect, the wood-fired oven. From that crackling fire issues forth rotisserie chicken, Berkshire pork chops and steaks. The steaks - sirloin, filet mignon, ribeye and strip - can be topped with a variety of accompaniments. My sirloin could have been cut a little more tidily, but it was cooked expertly to a delicious medium. The ancho chile seasoning was almost undetectable, and the Maytag butter never arrived, but I usually order my steaks unadorned, so this wasn't much of a loss.
In contrast to the bold red meat dishes, the seafood dishes are appealing in their simplicity. There's ginger lime shrimp and fish tacos, and a jambalaya with chicken, sausage and shrimp is served hot and hearty with a tuft of white rice. Orecchiette pasta with capers, olives and Portuguese sausage in a creamy broth flavored lightly with anchovy is full of flavor, if not exactly safe for low-sodium diets. The ahi tuna salad could have been a nod to the same dish at the shuttered Cloud 9 Grille - Bonfyre is the brainchild of Alfredo Teuschler, who opened Cloud 9 with James Hovde - but it was missing some of its former character.
Most of the amply portioned dinner items are available in smaller sizes on Bonfyre's lunch menu, paired with sides into combos with soup or salad ($9-$12). The Cuban sandwich was a knockout, pressed perfectly with thinly sliced ham and all the right condiments (no mayo!).
If you save room - and you should - the desserts are the perfect punctuation mark. They're modestly sized and even more modestly priced; all are $4. The just-sweet-enough white chocolate bread pudding stood out among the standard crème brûlée and tiramisu.
Bonfyre also offers a wine locker club, and paid membership includes access to exclusive wines and special prices.
The service is charming and friendly. Despite being placed almost underneath the Beltline, Bonfyre pulls off a very composed, urban atmosphere. One could almost imagine, while sitting near one of the expansive windows, being under an El line in the heart of Chicago. This is indeed the anti-Applebee's, and a great presence in this part of town. From starter to dessert, Bonfyre grabs you by the lapels and gives you a great experience - whether you're expecting it or not.