Dining and food culture in Chicago

Still Falling In Love: Romantic Fondue Classic Geja’s Changes Hands at Fifty

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Jeff Lawler, new owner of Gejas Cafe

Jeff Lawler, new owner of Geja’s Cafe

After two decades of working for venerable Chicago romantic dining destination Geja’s Café (340 West Armitage), Jeff Lawler will succeed John Davis as owner of the restaurant, just in time for Geja’s fiftieth anniversary.

Lawler, who has been in the restaurant business since he was seventeen, came to Geja’s in 1994 as general manager. He spent a few years working for Davis’ Wine of the Month club, but soon found himself drawn back to managing Geja’s day-to-day operations, a job with which he says he continues to “fall in love.”

“My responsibilities won’t really change all that much [as the owner],” Lawler says. “I got into the restaurant business because I love to serve people, and at Geja’s in particular I love working with staff to create special experiences for our guests.” Read the rest of this entry »

Pulp Nonfiction: Putting the Squeeze on Peeled, Chicago’s Juice Bar for the Uninitiated

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Photo: Jenny Yoon

A longtime staple in image-conscious Los Angeles, Chicago has jumped on the juice trend, with new spots like Peeled, just south of Lincoln Park close to the river, popping up around town. A streamlined space with organic, locally sourced produce ripe for consumption, Peeled offers a cold-beverage option that isn’t a tall iced latte or a pint. And it moves away from Jamba Juice’s sugar-loaded “smoothies.” Given the Midwest’s penchant for food that aims to clog arteries (here’s looking at you, ridiculous poutine trend), Peeled also offers a refreshing option that actually incorporates vegetables.

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Prime Cuts: Getting Piggy with the Butcher & the Burger

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Walking into the basement of Butcher & the Burger feels like walking into any other restaurant prep area. Except for the half of a hog lying on its side on the table and the well-dressed twenty- and thirtysomethings drinking beer, wine and tea while staring in a half-stunned half-anticipatory silence. Chef Al Sternweiler positions himself behind the carcass, slapping a hand down on it as he begins to address the crowd. After a short introduction, he grabs a knife and starts slicing away at the inside of the pig. While he cuts chunks of meat off the bone, strips off long chunks of fat and mentions how the less-desirable parts are great for grinding into sausage, co-owner and designer Josh Woodward launches into a lengthy explanation of this particular pig’s origin. Read the rest of this entry »

Fresher Than Ever: Green City Market gets a makeover and a new director

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Photo: Jessica Graves, Feeding the City

By Giovanni Wrobel

It’s hard to keep from smiling at the Green City Market, where every Wednesday and Saturday it feels as though the South Pond section of Lincoln Park is transformed into a French market on the dairy plains, as guitar strings and children’s laughter echo, and the fire-engine red backdrop of the Farm in the Zoo flashes through the trees. Shoppers and samplers exude energy and gush over the sweet and savory flavors of locally grown produce done right.

The yearlong farmers market in Lincoln Park is not a novel phenomenon, but with a newly landscaped location and Dana Benigno’s fresh face in the director’s chair, GCM presents much promise to grow within its community of committed shoppers and diligent farmers. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat #40: Bruce Sherman

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Bruce Sherman
Chef/Partner, North Pond; Chefs Collaborative and Green City Market Boards
Sherman is actually the antithesis of hot. He’s one of, if not the most deliberative and intelligent chefs we know. But, that attention to detail and nuance makes him one of Chicago’s best advocates for locally farmed high-quality food.


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The Big Heat #42: Joe Catterson

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Photo: Lara Kastner

Joe Catterson
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.

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The Big Heat #47: David Friedman

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David Friedman
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.

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The Big Heat #50: Charlie Trotter

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Charlie Trotter
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?

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Really Slow Food: Wintertime, and the living’s easy at the Green City Market

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Lincoln Park is unruffled this Saturday morning as a gentle snowfall adds another layer of white to the city surface. A handful of weekend runners and dog walkers scamper in all directions, while a steady flow of locavores head toward the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for the Green City Market (GCM). The only consistent year-round farmers’ market in Chicago, GCM has built up a community not only for its customers but also for its farmers.

GCM’s Outdoor Market, held spring through fall at the south end of Lincoln Park, can get pretty wild. Sixty vendors, thousands of patrons, limited produce and six hours of business twice a week make for a hectic day at the office for these farmers. “It’s awesome when it’s nice and we’re outside. It’s fun but it’s way more work,” says Adam Hausman of Seedling Farms. There are just over a dozen vendors alongside Seedling Farms on the second floor of the museum. If the farm representatives aren’t talking product to market goers, they’re casually perusing the scene themselves to see what the competition is offering. Read the rest of this entry »

Too Many Cooks in El’s Kitchen: Opening a restaurant is far from heavenly. Staying open is hell.

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Photo: Kristine Sherred

By Sarah Louise Klose

Ellen Haran has a smoking habit. And she doesn’t plan to quit.

Haran has always dreamed of ribs, brisket and chicken, slow-cooked in a cavernous smoker. She imagined spice-rubbed delicacies served in her own restaurant—a comfortable place where neighbors would feel like family. When her commercial real estate career went bust, Haran saw it as an opportunity to make it happen. She leased a Lincoln Park storefront, never imagining how challenging it would be to bring her vision to life. “I’m going from real estate to restaurants—the worst of two evils,” Haran says. “Every morning I put on my boxing gloves and say, ‘Who’s it going to be today?’ ”

In Spring 2010, I learn that Haran, a fellow church member, plans to open a restaurant called El’s Kitchen. Haran is warm and friendly, but she strikes me as the kind of person who doesn’t take any crap. A throwback to the thirties, Haran is a blonde bombshell, tough as her red toenails. By the time I hear about her plans, she is already deep into the project, although her doors are still far from opening. Read the rest of this entry »