Ben Schiller/Mike Ryan/Paul McGee/Brad Bolt
Mixologists/Head Bartenders, Boka Group/Sable Kitchen & Bar/The Whistler/Bar Deville
Ok, we’re cheating here by grouping four in one, but it’s kind of impossible to elevate one of these dudes over another. Booze brothers from different mothers they’re equals in the fight to bring great cocktailing back to Chicago.
GM/Sommelier/Wine Director, Alinea
If you don’t truly understand wine and food pairings—and few really do beyond, say, a big red and a hunk of ribeye—go see Joe. Like most sommeliers Catterson has an incredible palate and taste memory, but he also has the discipline of a monk. If he can’t pinpoint a perfect pairing with his brain, he’ll open up twenty bottles and taste them side by side with the course he’s trying to nail. In the end, whether it’s matching Slovenian Veliko Bianco (who knew they made wines in Slovenia?) with orange and lemongrass broth or hooking up a funky sherry with turtle soup, his pairings are as logical as ice-cold milk and a chocolate-chip cookie.
Owner, Henri and The Gage
Aside from Next, Henri is probably the only high-end restaurant to have launched in the last two years. While everyone else was out pimping jeans-preferred beer and pork emporiums, Lawless’ fearless investment in Louis Sullivan-inspired decorative plaster, glinting chandeliers, and sea-foam velvet chairs and impeccable service has paid off.
Owner, Hoosier Mama Pie Company
If anyone can take over the world one bite at a time, Haney, armed with her incredibly flaky crusted sweet and savory pies, is definitely poised to do it. Everything we’ve ever eaten here, be it jiggly banana cream or custardy quiche, is one of the best things we ever put in our mouth.
Chef, Boka and GT Fish & Oyster
Value pricing and casual small-plate concepts are all the rage these days, but with this movement often comes tradeoffs in execution level on the plate. Not so at GT Fish where Tentori is executing time-consuming terrines and fine brunoise dicing on garnishes, stuff you rarely see outside of four-star temples.
Robert and Sonat Birnecker
Owners, Koval Distillery
Their Lion’s Pride whiskey is the first legally distilled whiskey in Chicago since prohibition and their fruit liqueurs made in Ravenswood are many a local mixologist’s secret weapon.
Owner, Epic Burger
With never-frozen beef, cage-free fried-egg toppings and fresh-cut fries, Friedman is on a quest to feed the world a more “mindful burger.” That’s cool, but it also actually tastes pretty good too, good enough to spawn a third location in the West Loop this summer with plans for nine more.
Though her restaurant is ten years old, her blend of Armenian, Mediterranean and California cuisine is as fresh as it was the day it opened. She’s also built an incredibly smart and influential team—her cousin Michael is one of the great wine dudes of the city—and recently garnered a Michelin star. She’s also the only woman inducted into the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame.
At his burgeoning Bucktown spot, Schneider is doing for regional Greek food what Rick Bayless did for regional Mexican food. And it turns out flaming cheese, pre-frozen gyro cones and dancing Zorba imitators are not part of that culinary heritage—who knew? Instead, Schneider’s turning Chicago on to pristine seasonal veg, like freshly shucked fava beans glistening with a spritz of lemon and dolloped with thick luscious yogurt, and house-made flatbreads. He also purveys a deep Greek wine list that will banish all those Retsina hangover nightmares from your brain.
Chef/Owner, Charlie Trotter’s, Trotter’s to Go
He shuttered most of his new concepts. He only got two Michelin stars. The New York Times called him a “leader left behind.” We know. That being said, every person on this list stands on his shoulders. He made this cow town into a chow town and for that alone he belongs on this list. If Charlie calls, people still pick up the phone. He can do whatever he wants. It’s only a question of what he wants. So, we wait Chaz. What exactly do you want?
Want to see more photos? Want to make comments or suggestions? Visit each winner’s individual entry via this link.