As you approached Packed: Dumplings Reimagined from either direction on 57th Street, you were instantly drawn to the large, distinct dumpling icon hanging high above the restaurant’s door. Just as the eye catching sign suggested, Packed was a place with a menu meant to catch you off guard.
First, I walked to the register via ramp and was greeted by Chef Mike Sheerin. He proudly explained to me the different menu items. From the dumplings section, I ordered tamale, cheeseburger and rhubarb, each plate coming with three dumplings each.
Unsurprisingly, Packed had more than just dumplings in store. I added to my order a bao bun brisket sandwich off of the “unpacked” section. After grabbing a cup of water from the self-serve drink station decorated with “source local” wall art, I took a seat by the window to get a street view of 57th. The large open screen facing the street gave the restaurant the smell of fresh rain and certainly seemed to achieve their desire to be in touch with Hyde Park.
First out was the tamale dumpling. The chef told me that each ingredient on the menu was homemade as I took note of the salsa shmear underneath the three dumplings. The chicken filling was dry and a bit lacking in flavor, but the medium-heat salsa made up for what the inside of the dumpling lacked.
The cheeseburger dumpling tasted far from its title. The filling tasted like a quality meatball: a mix of Swiss, onion and grade A beef. The house ketchup served on the plate was the item most reminiscent of a cheeseburger, however. The pickles sliced on top of the dumplings were also homemade and added a tang and crunch to each bite. These dumplings tasted best when every element of the plate was in each bite, just as the chef had instructed me.
The brisket sandwich was presented on a flattened and toasted bao bun. Bao buns are often filled with other meat or vegetables (and featured in dim sum), but Packed transformed the soft bun into a crispy and light vessel for their brisket, turmeric, greens and red mole filling. Though the brisket was tender, most of the flavor of the sandwich came from the mole. The sauce served as a great mediator of flavors between the umami of the beef and the tang of the turmeric.
The rhubarb dumpling, the dumpling of the day, was served as a dessert of sorts. (You’ve probably heard of the root vegetable in rhubarb pies. Its tart and slightly sweet flavor lends itself well to jams and other desserts.) The bottom of the plate was covered in bread pudding and homemade graham crackers. Even the bread in the pudding itself was made in house.
Chef Sheerin told me, “Nothing [Packed does] is authentic,” and of course, this dumpling was an interesting dessert unlike any rhubarb recipe I’ve ever heard of or tasted before. The filling was the consistency of a thick bread pudding and not overwhelmingly sweet. Just like the other dumplings, though, the filling was simply a formed ball, surrounded by air and then the dumpling shell.
Packed’s student discount was not to be discounted. If you had a UCID, you could have ordered seven dumplings of one flavor for $10.00.
Chef Sheerin’s implementation of farm-to-table was present in his cooking and in Packed’s atmosphere. The restaurant was certainly not ordinary, and I was under the impression that the chef explained this to his customers regularly. Packed was deserving of a taste, especially if you were looking for new cuisine far different than anything else in Hyde Park. Nonetheless, just as quickly as we were able to say “hello” to Packed, we now say “goodbye.”