Dining and food culture in Chicago

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

Lincoln Park, Organics, Produce, Vegetarian No Comments »

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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Local Feasting: Prep Your Holiday Meals with Green City Market Finds

Farmer's Markets, Organics, Produce No Comments »

Prairie Fruits Cheeses

This past Saturday morning I made a startling discovery. I took a walk to the Green City Market, which, happily, does not close up shop with summer. Jack Frost may be putting a chill in the air, but I can still load up on farmer’s market staples like arugula, funky black kale, broccoli sprouts and “Angel Food” goat cheese to satisfy the restless Anthony Bourdain within.

And the spread, I must say, is pretty jaw dropping. Vendors display their wares (many with samples) outside near the south entrance, and inside the South Gallery on the second floor. I tasted enough crisp apple butters, creamy cheese spreads and sweet honey to make my head spin with recipe ideas. I discussed the joys of cheese-making with farmhands and contemplated gift ideas amongst the jam jars. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Lincoln Park, Organics, Produce No Comments »

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 »

411: Easy Being Green

Organics, Produce, Wicker Park 1 Comment »

The idea of an organic, environmentally friendly, eco-footprintless lifestyle is no longer avant-garde. The actuality of people taking the steps to live this lifestyle, however, can be unimpressive. Lauren Yucan’s Real Naked Food, now open at 1909 West Division, makes green living a whole lot easier for Wicker Park.

Real Naked Food is a small grocery with fresh produce, bulk baking and cooking needs, frozen meals, baby food and cleaning supplies. All of the merchandise here is organic and “absolutely 100 percent local,” says Yucan. With the exception of a few frozen and pre-packaged items, this grocer is BYOC—Bring Your Own Container. While this technique reflects the European market approach the store is influenced by, it also allows patrons to decide how much or little of any product they take home. “Buying in bulk is an excellent way to save,” explains Yucan. “You can buy a pound of flour when you only need one cup, or you can get one cup of quality organic flour for cents.” The concept behind BYOC is pre-cycling—avoiding items that will become waste whether they are disposed of in the trash or a recycling bin. Taking the work out of recycling for lazy earth lovers, using your own containers at Real Naked Food is a time, money and effort saver. “The idea is so foreign to bring in your empty spray bottle to refill with our organic cleaner,” says Yucan, “but what are you going to do with it when it’s empty? Throw it away and buy a new one.” While you receive a 25-cent discount with every container you bring in, Real Naked Food has biodegradable containers to purchase for the unprepared shopper. Read the rest of this entry »

411: This Dill Pickle ages nicely

Logan Square, Organics, Produce 1 Comment »

If Michael Pollan’s recent celebrity is any indication of the national mood, then one might expect a plethora of options from which to buy locally sourced and organic food. But while the corporate options like Whole Foods and Trader Joes are firmly established in Chicago, each with multiple locations throughout the city and suburbs, small, community markets are rare, and currently only Dill Pickle Food Cooperative can claim the title of local food co-op since the long-running Hyde Park Co-op closed several years ago due to financial strains.

Getting started was no easy task either. General manager Vinnie Hernandez mentions that it took five years to build a functioning organization from the time that DPFC founder Kath Duffy sent out her initial application to the community for support.

Nevertheless, the DPFC, which just celebrated the first anniversary of its opening, was entirely funded by individual member loans. Hernandez calls this circumstance “an aberration,” citing that with co-ops, “there’s always a bank issue.” The groundswell of financial support is especially remarkable when considering that it took place in the midst of a serious economic recession. Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Chicago Restaurants, 2000-2009

Brazilian, Burgers, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, French, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Ice Cream, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, New American, Organics, Pastry, Punk Haute, Seafood, Steakhouse, Trends & Essays, Vegetarian 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrant

Avenues

Avenues

Since 2000, Chicago has gone from being a Rat Pack-worthy steak-and-potato-slinging stereotype to a destination for international culinary travelers. Chicago’s affordability, its diners’ willingness to suspend disbelief and its proximity to the sublime bounty of the Midwest all play a role in that transformation. Most important to the renaissance are the places that put everything together to inspire our collective culinary imagination, the best restaurants that opened in Chicago this decade.

Alinea
The history of cuisine was written in the kitchens of millions of chefs, but we only remember a few by name, guys like Escoffier, Careme and Robuchon. There are probably only three Chicago chefs, as of now, who have a shot at making that list: Jean Banchet, Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz. Though Achatz started making a name for himself at Trio, Alinea was the game changer, the restaurant where every aspect of dining from menus and silverware to the wine service and emotional content of the food was reimagined.

Avec
Love it or hate it, this was ground zero for what is now today’s communal table free-for-all. More importantly, Avec was the place that launched a thousand salumi, the fringe of Chicago’s now-burgeoning charcuterie movement. Koren Grieveson’s restrained soulful style is still the late-night hang of choice for chefs.

Avenues
You probably don’t remember Gerhard Doll or David Hayden, the chef-stewards who drove the good ship Avenues through a successful seafood-driven era, but there’s no doubt you won’t forget the Pop Rock and foie-lollipop fantasia, the convenience-store chic of Graham Elliot Bowles. Without Bowles’ whimsical, accessible style, the emotional roller coaster of Grant Achatz’s cooking and the theater at Homaro Cantu’s Moto likely wouldn’t have quite captured the nation’s imagination, nor garnered Chicago cuisine the countless magazine features it received mid-decade. Today, Curtis Duffy, the culinary love child of Achatz, Thomas Keller and Alice Waters, is executing some of the most exciting cuisine Chicago has to offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Tickled Pickle: Logan Square’s Dill Pickle Co-op opens its doors

Events, Logan Square, News etc., Organics, Produce 1 Comment »

P1020694As Logan Square residents can attest, Chicago’s only community-owned and operated grocery store was well worth the nearly five-year wait. Even before the doors of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op opened at noon this day, soon-to-be-patrons clamored around the entrance, eagerly waiting to set foot inside.

The genuine affection that went into every element of the Co-op is one of the most striking things about the Dill Pickle. The store itself is charming—mint-green walls and exposed pipes, cozy lighting that melts away memories of a freezing Saturday afternoon wind—but it is the strong sense of community that really drives this home. Nearly every other person who enters the store knows someone involved in the Pickle’s success, and they offer their heartfelt congratulations, sometimes accompanied with an effusive bear hug. Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s Essential Restaurants 2009

African, Albany Park, Andersonville, Auburn Gresham, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Bistro, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinatown, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Deli, East Garfield Park, Events, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near South Side, New American, Organics, Pakistani, Palestinian, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Seafood, Senegalese, Soul Food, South Loop, South Shore, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, Wicker Park 4 Comments »
In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

Resto 100 is, as it has been in years past, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

In these particular hard economic times, we find ourselves dining out a lot more at the BYOBs, mom-and pop-spots and small ethnic joints than we do at the high end.  That being said, while we didn’t set out to consciously create a list to address our lighter wallets, it sure turned out that way.  More than ever, this list is a cross section of the wealth of culturally diverse and reasonably priced restaurants Chicago is lucky to have. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Organic Survival

News etc., Organics No Comments »

Despite last week’s closing of Greg Christian Catering, his Organic School Project is here to stay. The OSP provides Chicago Public Schools students with healthy, organic alternatives to typical lunchroom fair and was the subject of a Newcity cover story in 2007. “We aspire to inspire children, to excite them to make better food choices,” says OSP Executive Director DiAnne Richardson. In addition to providing students with nutritious lunch options, the program also incorporates the “Grow. Teach. Feed.” model, which allows children to participate in healthy lifestyle workshops and grow a garden at school. “For young people to understand the whole growing process and make better food choices will lead to a sustainable, healthier lifestyle,” Richardson says. OSP is currently operating at Alcott Elementary, Lowell Elementary and Reavis Elementary, where it is running a garden project. The OSP has also expanded to creating community gardens, the first being at the Garfield Park Conservatory. According to Richardson, they are open to reaching out to other schools and communities throughout Chicagoland: “We are always looking to expand and bring healthy food to our young people.”

Big Cheese: Organic School Project gets unhealthy

Cuisine, etc., Events, Organics No Comments »

moxieAt a fundraiser for the Organic School Project, everyone mills about Goose Island Brewery, shoveling in spoonful after spoonful of mac ‘n’ cheese, throwing back brews and enjoying one cupcake (and then another). A wellness program created by Chef Greg Christian that works with the Chicago Public School System to get kids eating healthier, OSP plants organic gardens at schools, teaches youngsters about nutrition and works to combat obesity. Everyday, OSP provides Alcott Elementary with all organic, natural and made-from-scratch lunches.

This information, coupled with the images being continuously broadcast from the Goose Island TVs of OSP children eating organically and working in gardens, endows one with a creeping sense of guilt. Shouldn’t this event practice what it preaches? Nah, let’s try the Mac-tini. The Adam Seger-designed mac ‘n’ cheese-inspired cocktail made with cheddar cheese, maple syrup, fresh lime juice and CapRock vodka, flies off the bar and down the throats of fundrais-ees with surprising speed. Read the rest of this entry »