It’s one thing to get the ear of a politician, it’s quite another to have the stomach of the President. Obama, Daley, Rahm and Quinn—they’ve all made their pilgrimages to the Near West Side for pastrami and pie—it seems you can’t launch a campaign in this town these days without a little of Raskin’s nosh. For the rest of us, the poor unwashed masses, Raskin feeds the soul and reaffirms the Chicago in our hearts.
“Check Please!”/Lettuce Entertain You Wine Queen
We’ve seen little old Mexican dudes who have eaten a lot more chicken livers than foie gras stop dead in their tracks in a Pilsen grocery store and stare in awe like a 12-year-old girl spying Justin Bieber at a shopping mall when they’ve spotted Singh. She is the culinary darling for foodies and the McDonald’s-loving set alike. Despite her celebrity, she’s wicked smart on wine and one of the nicest people we know.
Chef/Partner, Vie and Perennial Virant
Everyone uses local seasonal product these days, but few cook like they’re on an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” Stuffing sausages, canning preserves, pickling vegetables and foraging for mushrooms, Paul Virant is the one-room schoolhouse of old-school cooks. Unfortunately, he’s been working most of his magic in Western Springs. Thankfully, Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm of Boka Restaurant Group have tapped him for their renovation of Perennial—soon to be Perennial Virant—where he’ll work his seasonal magic across the street from Green City Market. Oh, and he has a forthcoming canning and preserving cookbook from Ten Speed Press too in case you want to get in touch with your inner pioneer.
Owner, Gunthorp Farms
Chickens, pigs, ducks, oh my! Way before it was a cliché to see a farmer’s name on a seasonal menu, Gunthorp Farms was often the only name you saw. Nowadays, from Blackbird in the West Loop to Vie in the western suburbs, if there’s meat on the menu, Gunthorp is almost always part of the equation.
Louis John and Leslie Slagel
Owners, Slagel Family Farm
Chances are if you’re eating the “best burger of your life” in Chicago, it was made from Slagel Farm’s livestock. You might not even be a legitimate gastropub if you don’t serve at least one Slagel cut. Just ask Owen & Engine, Longman & Eagle, The Publican or Nightwood.
Chef/Owner, Belly Shack and Urban Belly
Though he’d spent years with Charlie Trotter and cooked at the highest levels, Kim was one of the first serious chefs to chuck it all for a dream of producing casual sophisticated dining in anonymous Chicago storefronts. He showed cooks that they could be pirates and princes at the same time.
Ex-Executive Chef, Avenues
Two of the biggest restaurants in the world right now are Alinea and Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. Curtis Duffy’s cuisine, which indulges in molecular gastronomy technique and hyper-naturalistic plating is sort of a version of the best of both those restaurants, which is to say Duffy is one of the best chefs in town and maybe the world. He recently garnered two Michelin stars for the Peninsula’s celebrated Avenues restaurant, and just left the restaurant this summer to undertake a long-in-the-works place of his own. Stay tuned.
Lakin, who once worked at Tru, is probably the most overqualified owner of a burger and hot dog joint since Hot Doug Sohn walked out of Kendall College and bestowed duck-fat French fries upon the world. Then again those over-qualifications ensure fresh-ground and griddled-to-order char burgers, cement-thick bacon chocolate milkshakes and twice-fried French fries that keep Chicago drooling on the daily.
No less than Patton Oswalt (“Ratatouille”’s Remy the Rat if you didn’t know) and Gwynnie Paltrow are superfans of his grungy idiosyncratic runny-egg-yolk-ravioli-serving temple on Ashland. Paltrow loved the “hot waiters in skater clothes” and called it “off the hook.” But you don’t have to take the poor man’s Patsy Cline’s word for it. You can try to make a reservation yourself, though no one’s likely to answer the phone when you call. But, even if you can’t get in, trust us, Carlson is one talented cat.
Founder, OpenTable.com and Chairman, GrubHub.com
Templeton’s OpenTable software now has a stranglehold on the fine-dining market for point-of-service and reservation software. So what did Templeton do when he was looking for a next act? He joined GrubHub’s founders Maloney and Evans to exact similar domination on the downscale food-delivery market. So far he’s helped attract significant venture capital money to GrubHub and helped position the company to continue its expansion into significant national markets.