PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
By Peter Michael
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROBIN SUBAR
By Peter Michael
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROBIN SUBAR
One evening, many Thanksgivings ago, my great Uncle Nick pulled me aside and dispensed one of the most valuable pieces of drunken advice I’ve ever received. Never, he said, eat a sit-down meal anywhere that you can pump gas, rent bowling shoes, or play 18 holes of golf.
Smart man, my Uncle Nick. Turned out to be sage advice as I’ve learned that there are few things in life that are less romantic than watching a man hack, slice, and cuss his way through 18 holes of golf—and then watch him drown away his sorrows with a porterhouse and two bottles of red in a country club dining room.
Technically speaking, I suppose my Uncle Nick’s cardinal commandment should extend to miniature golf as well. But based on our most recent visit to Puttshack in Oak Brook, my new favorite Vegas-style indoor mini golf experience, I may be willing to carve out an exception.
There’s a backstory here: A year ago, after a particularly bruising and wallet-draining afternoon of shopping at Oak Brook, my wife and I decided to do the semi-frugal thing and play a round of mini golf instead of splurging on a sit-down supper.
Turned out to be a shrewd choice because Puttshack has eliminated almost everything that makes adult duffers groan about miniature golf. There are no paper score cards. (Your score is tallied digitally). No creepy animatronic clown heads with tongue-shaped drawbridges. (Most of the holes are inspired by barroom games, roulette wheels and pinball machines). And, as an added bonus, if you book a tee time after 8 p.m., Puttshack transforms into a 21 and over affair, which means you can blame that last lackluster putting game on your cocktail rather than your lack of coordination.
During our first visit to Puttshack, I did something I swore I’d never do: After a rather “spirited” round of mii golf, I sat down and ordered an “O.G.” cheeseburger.
Not sure if it was the buzz I was feeling from my Navy rum-strength Mai Tai or the elation of taking home the top prize on Puttshack’s Emerald course, but I fell pretty hard for that juicy little burger.
Here, I thought to myself, was a burger good enough to inspire a return visit.
So, on my most recent trip back to Puttshack, I realized it wasn’t the victory lap talking. The house burger, made from an unctuous blend of ground brisket, chuck and short rib, was just as good the second time around.
Puttshack’s OG burger is the least exotic but clearly the most impressive offering on a menu chiefly comprised of street food snacks and late-night munchies from around the world. Chef Kus Folkers probably recognizes that 85 precent of the groups who dine at Puttshack are going to order a burger, so she’s built a brilliant one.
Suffice to say, it’s worth the 16 bucks. No gimmicks needed. The result is everything you’d want in a burger. It’s a juicy, runny, two-handed delight.
Most of Folkers’ menu is meant to be eaten with your hands. This isn’t posh and polished gastropub fare. It’s precisely what you’d expect (and would want) from a mini-golf/ sports-bar that hangs framed Pokemon cards on the walls and has built a mini museum out of video game artifacts.
Essentially, this is upscale Super Bowl food with a global twist. There are crispy spring rolls stuffed with shredded Italian beef and spicy giardiniera. Lebanese hummus served with a dash of peri-peri sauce. And shiitake mushroom potstickers that you can dunk in a peach dipping sauce.
When in doubt, order the grilled chicken skewers, which can be dressed up with creamy cilantro yogurt and coleslaw and piled onto a grilled pita. And some of Puttshack’s seafood offerings are worth a taste. After sampling a crab-spiked artichoke dip and nibbling on some Thai-spiced wood-fired octopus skewers, we were feeling full enough to hit the links again.
Puttshack has devised a rather impressive system. Tiny sensors are implanted in each golf ball, which track the number of targets you hit, the number of strokes you took for each hole and ultimately your final score.
In a welcome twist (for me at least), the player who sinks their puts in the fewest number of shots doesn’t necessarily take home the crown. Puttshack has its own point system, which rewards the golfer with the highest—nor lowest—score at the end of nine holes. The lower your handicap the higher your base score, but players can earn bonus points by hitting specially designated targets, dropping shots into glowing shortcuts called “super tubes” and avoiding hidden hazards—remember to avoid all flashing red lights — that could reduce your total score.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of colorful mini golf experience that manages to incorporate elements of pinball, carnival games and random trivia questions, you’re in for a treat.
Suffice to say, during my most recent visit to Puttshack, I did not reclaim my position atop the proverbial leaderboard. I didn’t, however, hit a single slice, sand box, or triple bogey. And I don’t remember cussing under my breath a single time. I was on my best behavior—and for good reason. Why risk the chance of expulsion, when I knew there was an O.G. burger with my name on it, waiting for me I on the other end of the back nine?
Puttshack is located at 1828 Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook. Call 773.831.7888, puttshack.com/locations/oakbrook.
Yes, Virginia, they can whip up a mean Cotton Candy Crush mocktail at Puttshack, but the bubbliest drinks are reserved for mom and dad.
Porn Star Martini: Slightly scandalous handle? You bet. This one’s a show-off. Vanilla vodka Passion fruit liquor. And a touch of rosé to cut through all that sugar. Drinks like a spiked tropical smoothie and arrives in a cloud of smoke.
Ultimate Top Shelf Margarita: This is a margarita that brings some serious heat. Mezcal Tequila, Hanson Habanero Vodka. pineapple syrups and juices, cold-pressed lime juice. Not to mention a Jalapeño Hellfire popsicle speared into the center of the drink, which adds extra spice with every passing second.