To keep tabs on every Chicago restaurant and bar opening is folly. But to keep tabs on the most worthy? Yeoman’s work, and we’re proud to do it. Thus we present Table Stakes, a monthly rundown of the five (or so) must-know spots that have swung wide their doors in the past thirty (or so). Do it to it.
It’s good to have Zoe Schor back. The former Ada St. exec chef makes her ownership debut with a come-as-you-are spot in a former doughnut factory, churning out gastronomic odes to classic American comforts. Expect loaded potato gnocchi with house bacon and crispy tater skins, and a green bean casserole redux with oyster mushrooms and fresh herbs (menu here). There’s even a refined spin on the so-very Midwest dessert: the pretzel salad, served up with panna cotta, strawberry-pineapple gelatin and pretzel streusel.
Plant-forward opening — part one — is equal parts wily and brazen as Clever Rabbit co-owners Chris Haisma and Brad Serot (The Betty) and chef Matt Lair (Bom Bolla, RIP) test the boundaries of how we think about eating green, and how much near-meatless fare can, or should, cost. You may have already heard about a certain controversial, table-sized $38 crudite board on the menu. If inclined to try, it helps to recast it as a $10-a-piece hefty appetizer for four. Cleverness indeed abounds in drinks like the bright carrot margarita with sage and reposado tequila and dishes like the deeply savory Chinese broccoli with fermented black beans and salt-and-pepper tofu. If you’re meat-inclined, you’ll wanna order the burger — a double at that, with sherry mustard, Swiss, mushrooms and onions.
Ask for killer breakfast and ye shall receive. At least, that’s the case for Lakeview Heritage Bicycles regulars, whose pleas for some sustenance with their morning cuppa are being granted Wednesdays to Mondays from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. in the newly constructed Heritage Kitchen. The chef: Ryan Silver. He comes from Soho House West Hollywood. The char-crusted brisket hash with poached egg, crispy potatoes and shaved parm has already vastly improved our a.m.’s, and makes the caloric case for biking to work even stronger.
Photo: Paul Strabbing
Chef Andrew Zimmerman’s sexy sibling spot to Sepia, Proxi traffics in more casual, global street food. And we don’t mean tacos; rather complex, mostly flame-cooked bites. Think spicy Indonesian pork jerky and fried fish collars with Thai-garlic chile sauce. There’s live fire in the bevvies too, like the El-OTAY!, a concoction of fire-roasted corn-infused tequila, agave and tajin salt. The midcentury brasserie-inspired space suits a range of hangs. Share plates in the boisterous, bright lounge near the front, or slink to a quieter half-moon banquette in back, with views into the stunning open kitchen.
Colectivo, the independent Milwaukee coffee chain with a cult following, has chosen Chicago for its first Illinois outpost. We’ll come often for the lighter session-roasted coffees in regular rotation, and for the made-from-scratch pastries from wholesale baking arm Troubador. We’ll linger for the 150-seat doggo-friendly patio with a fire pit and heat lamps built into the awnings. Did we mention the four house beers on draught made from recipes developed by employees? Y’know, just in case it’s after coffee-drinking hours.
Plant-forward opening — part two — takes us to Logan Square, where pasta-centric Daisies popped up in the former home of Cajun joint Analogue. Ex-Balena and Perennial Virant chef Joe Frillman uses meat more often as seasoning than centerpiece. Here, earthly delights — sourced when possible from Frillman’s brother Tim’s farm — are coaxed to their most flavorful, as in ashy charred leeks with mustard hollandaise. Co-starring are a half-dozen, expertly delicate pastas. We’ve already been entranced by the agnolotti with beets, dill and smoked trout roe, and suspect the potato pierogi with lemon saison and clams will have a similar effect.
Remember when you never really visited the Merchandise Mart unless you were (A) heading to the Brown Line or (B) a furniture wholesaler? This multipurpose lounge, cafe, restaurant and hangout — with food from Team DMK — reflects the Mart’s transition into a tech company hub, and gives more Chicagoans an excuse to kick it in this historic leviathan. Perched atop the Mart’s Grand Stair, the orange- and caramel-accented space is a stunner, with views overlooking the river. Some 12,000 square feet break out into a walk-up coffee bar, full-service restaurant, boozy bar and plush-seating lounge (complete with server call buttons!). The Old Bay-flecked crispy calamari are a deliciously safe bet whether you’re there for business or pleasure.
Main Photo: Marshall's Landing