Restaurants: Doing Their Part, May 1, 2008 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Restaurants: Doing Their Part, May 1, 2008 

Twenty-two green-leaning restaurants and shops

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Doing Their Part

Twenty-two green-leaning restaurants and shops

The Balanced Kitchen6263 N. McCormick | 773-463-1085

$$Vegetarian/Healthy | Lunch, dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday

All the buzzwords for "green" cuisine apply to this place—vegan, organic, local, eco-friendly, seasonal, sustainable—and it's gluten free, too. Eileen Alper, who owns the restaurant with her daughter Betty (also the pastry chef), says it's their effort to be "part of the solution rather than the problem." So the furniture is recycled, the faucets are solar powered, and rather than printing new menus every day, they display the constantly changing selection on high-definition monitors. Among the choices there are usually pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and soups, as well as hot entrees like curry and lasagna and a few raw options. So how do they make a vegan bacon-ranch sandwich? Or raw, vegan, gluten-free ravioli? They don't. They do, however, make some pretty tasty food that may be unlike anything you've tried before. Thinly sliced radish filled with cashew "cheese" doesn't sound like ravioli to me—nor does it taste like it. And I certainly wouldn't have identified the wedge of dessert that was set in front of me as cake, much less raw carrot "cheesecake," if I hadn't known that's what I ordered. But everything I tasted was not just unexpected but also unexpectedly good, with nice combinations of flavors and textures. If you want a bacon sandwich that tastes like—well—bacon, though, it's probably best to go someplace else. On Sundays at noon there's a six-course brunch by reservation only. —Julia Thiel

Bleeding Heart Bakery1955 W. Belmont | 773-327-6931

$Bakery | Sunday 8 AM-6 PM, Tuesday-saturday 6 AM-7 PM | closed monday

When Bleeding Heart Bakery opened in its original Ukrainian Village location three years ago, it was the country's first organic bakery—and chef-owner Michelle Garcia had faced any number of headaches and hassles. These days it's easier to source organics and locally grown products, and Bleeding Heart is thriving in its new location in Lakeview. Garcia, a graduate of the French Pastry School, is known for her over-the-top specialty cakes, but she's equally transgressive on a smaller scale. Currently she's offering a "Top Chef Controversial Cupcake of the Week," developing recipes based on the ingredients used in the Wednesday-night show's winning entry, then baking up batches for sale on Thursdays. Another new addition to the wares is house-made ice cream in flavors that have so far included strawberry-basil-ginger, goat-cheese-walnut-port, and chocolate-peanut-butter-bacon. There's a changing selection of sweets and baked goods, including a range of breads, but Garcia says her most popular item is the vegan Take a Hike Scone, made with dried cranberries and seeds. Expanded hours come summer. —Kate Schmidt

Cousin's Incredible Vitality3038 W. Irving Park | 773-478-6868

$$Vegetarian/Healthy, Small Plates | Lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO

A few years ago chef Mehmet Ak traded in his kebab grill for two dehydrating cabinets, transforming the Irving Park location of Cousin's Turkish Cuisine into Cousin's Incredible Vitality, a vegan restaurant specializing in raw (or "living") foods. The menu still nods to his Turkish heritage: there's flaxseed hummus and tabbouleh made from soaked and sprouted quinoa; "living mezes" feature stuffed grape leaves, shepherd's salad, and house-marinated olives alongside "not tamales," "not tuna" wraps, and minipizzas on flaxseed flatbread. Mediterranean "pasta" has angel-hair made from zucchini, raw marinara, and "Parmesan" made from pine nuts. The restaurant also offers an all-you-can eat salad bar or your choice of three appetizers for $12. —Susannah J. Felts

Crust2056 W. Division | 773-235-5511

F 8.0 | S 7.7 | A 7.6 | $$ (6 reports)Pizza | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Thursday-Saturday till 1 | Reservations not accepted | Vegetarian friendly

Chef Michael Altenberg's casual flatbread-pizza joint, the city's first certified organic restaurant, is a sleek modern dining hall with bright orange molded plastic chairs and trippy Formica tables; the spacious back patio and sidewalk cafe add seats for another 120. The pizza—er, flatbreads—have an airy, chewy, well-proofed crust and are topped with everything from savory silver dollars of pepperoni to a Greek mix of artichokes, olives, and feta to a take on an Alsatian Flammkuchen (caramelized onion, bacon, and caraway seeds with a bechamel sauce). All, meat included, tastes shockingly fresh; the baby greens in my Sun Salad (a tasty mix of greens and seaweed in a plum-miso dressing) had to have had their lives cut short that same day. The bar offers a short but respectable wine and beer list, plus a selection of cocktails with infused organic vodka. —Martha Bayne

Doc's Juice and Smoothies2246 W. Armitage | 773-278-5600

$Vegetarian/Healthy | Monday-friday 7 AM-8 PM, Saturday-sunday 8 AM-8 PM | closed monday

Forget Jamba Juice: Mike Valente's tiny Bucktown takeaway offers an all-organic roster of smoothies, soups, and baked goods. Among the favorites, he says, are a vegan strawberry-peach-mango smoothie with apple juice, a raspberry-banana-mango combo with pineapple and fat-free yogurt, and a blueberry-peach-strawberry number with blueberry and apple juice and frozen yogurt. Homemade soups, made off-site, include vegan black bean, vegan wild mushroom, and a creamy chicken-broccoli soup made with free-range chicken. In the works are expanded summer hours and sandwiches to go, among them gluten-free and vegan options. —Kate Schmidt

Drew's Eatery2207 W. Montrose | 773-463-7397

$Ice Cream, American, Vegetarian/Healthy| sunday, tuesday-thursday 11 AM-8 PM; friday-saturday 11 AM-9 PM | Closed Monday | Reservations not accepted | Vegetarian friendly

Location, location, location. This little organic hot dog and ice cream shop across from Welles Park may not seem like much, but with its kid-friendly menu of sausages and well-pedigreed sweets, summer traffic seems all but guaranteed. The dogs themselves come in pork, two different combos of chicken and turkey (one with red pepper and jalapeno, the other spinach and feta), and classic nitrite-free beef; there's also a vegan version. While they're not char-grilled, they've got a clean, snappy flavor and are refreshingly free of grease. Cookies and pastries are parbaked by Sweet Dreams Organic Bakery in Glenview and finished on-site; the terrific ice cream's from Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville, Indiana. Owner Andrew Baker carries through on his commitment to sustainability with furnishings as green as they come, all the way down to the biodegradable cornstarch takeout containers. —Martha Bayne

Frontera Grill445 N. Clark | 312-661-1434

F 8.7 | S 6.7 | A 7.5 | $$$ (15 reports)Mexican | Lunch, dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Saturday brunch | Closed Sunday, Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

rrr Next door to the more formal Topolobampo, in a room covered with folk art, Frontera delivers a changing menu of exotically elemental stuff rarely represented on menus north of the Rio Grande—enchiladas dulces, for example, Colima-style shredded pork in a peppery chocolate sauce with pickled cabbage. Yellow mole shows up on some other local menus, but here it cushioned a trout dressed with hoja santa (aka root beer plant) and garlicky purslane, both common in Mexico but less so on stateside platters. On our last visit we also sampled Mayan-inspired dishes, among them poc chuc de puerco, orange-marinated pork with a sharply defined habanero salsa. Frontera's marisqueira ecologica, a "sustainable seafood bar," lays out gorgeous oysters and vuelve a la vida, the classic ceviche cocktail. Desserts such as plantains with homemade crema make a suitably rich and sweet finish. With them, consider spending a few extra bucks on "Coffee for a Cause," a 100 percent Oaxacan brew that will go down as one of the most full-flavored straight-ahead joes you've ever tasted. —David Hammond

The Handlebar2311 W. North | 773-384-9546

F 8.3 | S 7.3 | A 7.6 | $ (22 reports)Global/Fusion/Eclectic, Vegetarian/Healthy| Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, other nights till midnight | Reservations not accepted

rrr A cyclist hangout—the bar stools are made from chrome rims, vintage bikes hang from the ceiling, and there are specials for messengers on Mondays—this is a theme restaurant that doesn't feel precious. The food is cheap and vegetarian friendly: most entrees are under $10, and the only meat option is fish. The chefs don't do anything flashy, but they do a little bit of everything and do it well—the samosas with tamarind chutney, for example, are on par with any you'd find on Devon. The kitchen also does a bang-up job with comfort food: sides include a respectable vegetarian version of southern collard greens and a totally addictive smoked Gouda mac 'n' cheese I'll crave on my deathbed. —David Wilcox

Heartland Cafe7000 N. Glenwood | 773-465-8005

F 6.5 | S 5.9 | A 6.8 | $ (19 reports)American, Vegetarian/Healthy | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only

"Unfortunately there are not many places to get a really good buffalo burger," quips one Rater. The Heartland, however, serves up a mean one, plus salads, sandwiches, and enough hearty vegetarian entrees to satisfy the pickiest eater, from veggie chili to tofu scrambles, barbecue seitan, and a macrobiotic plate. Fine dining it's not (though specials like steamed artichokes show some aspiration), but it is a north-side sanctuary for hungry bohemians of all stripes, with live music (funk, folk, and jazz) and a Wednesday-night poetry open mike. While service can be erratic, most who frequent the Heartland know what they're getting into. Attached is a left-leaning general store with environmentally friendly products including household cleaners and fair-trade coffees. —Martha Bayne

Ina's1235 W. Randolph | 312-226-8227

F 7.1 | S 7.0 | A 6.4 | $$ (10 reports)American, Breakfast | Breakfast: seven days; Lunch: Monday-Saturday; Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Vegetarian friendly

Ina Pinkney is one of the movers and shakers behind the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op, a loose consortium of restaurateurs who have put their collective buying power behind drawing green products and packaging into the Chicago market. At her cheerful namesake restaurant, brick walls are brightened with salmon trim and aqua wainscoting and tables are topped with white butcher paper and salt-and-pepper shakers from Pinkney's eclectic collection. Entrees are comfort-food favorites like fried chicken, chicken potpie, and meat loaf; there's also a BLT with avocado and a grilled cheese with Gruyere and Swiss. The breakfast menu includes scrapple with black beans and corn, four kinds of pancakes, homemade granola with dried cranberries, omelets with potatoes, and a vegetable hash. The bread comes fresh from Labriola, the coffee from Intelligentsia. Perhaps best of all, the place is a cell-phone-free zone. —Laura Levy Shatkin

North Pond2610 N. Cannon | 773-477-5845

F 8.7 | S 7.6 | A 9.4 | $$$ (28 reports)American Contemporary/Regional | Dinner: Sunday, tuesday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Closed Monday, Tuesday

rrr At North Pond, along with the menu diners are given the mantra of the modern sustainability-minded restaurant: the ingredients, whenever possible, are locally sourced and organic and you will love them; the chef has close partnerships with area farmers and you will benefit. Chef Bruce Sherman isn't shy about his principles, and it's hard to eat here and conclude that he's wrong: the quality of his ingredients is evident, and the cooking is surprisingly adventurous. Current seasonal offerings include hazelnut-crusted frog legs with grilled asparagus and artisanal farro or a ramp veloute soup with crab cake and pickled watermelon relish. Along with house-made soppressata and rabbit mousse, a charcuterie plate features coppa, lozna, and lardo from Iowa-based La Quercia, all handcrafted from acorn-fed Berkshire pigs. Even Sunday brunch has surprises: where else is onion veloute soup with a sheep's-milk-ricotta crouton and beet jam an option at such a meal? Lunch resumes in June. —Nicholas Day

Players Club2500 N. Ashland | 773-477-7769

$$Bar/Lounge, Polish/Russian/Eastern European| Dinner: seven days | Saturday and Sunday brunch | Open late: Saturday till 3, Monday-Friday till 2, Sunday till midnight

At this race-car-themed bar and restaurant chef-owner Mary Jurczyk creates healthful twists on her Polish grandmother's recipes, using free-range chicken and sprouted bread and substituting whole-grain spelt flour for white flour, sea salt for rock salt, and honey and fruit juices for refined white sugar. But the meals aren't light—the eight-page menu is full of pierogi and goulash, plus non-Polish dishes like grilled tuna steak, pastas, steak Diane, and rack of lamb. Brunch is especially decadent: besides a complete egg menu that includes filet mignon Benedict, there are strawberry and apple crepes as big as king-size burritos, stuffed with fresh fruit and sour cream, sprinkled with triple sec and amaretto, and garnished with pecans and ribbons of whipped cream. —A. LaBan

Soundings1200 S. Lake Shore Dr. | 312-692-3277

American Contemporary/Regional | Lunch: seven days

Before the daily lunch rush, Soundings is a near-silent retreat from the shrieking masses of schoolchildren that swarm around the Shedd Aquarium. Early arrivals are also treated to a seat by the windows overlooking the lake. Appetizers from chef Ted Cizma, a Charlie Trotter's vet, include a "superfood" spinach salad with banana chips, toasted almonds, and a blueberry vinaigrette, and "deconstructed hummus" (lemon-garlic yogurt with a chickpea-and-cucumber salad). A note on the menu declares that all seafood served comes from a sustainable source, but if you're not the meet-it-before-you-eat-it type, you might forgo the albacore tuna wrap in favor of the tasty turkey sandwich with cream cheese, sprouts, walnuts, and cranberry jelly on toasted whole-grain bread and served with sweet-potato chips. Arrive after the downstairs food court fills up, when desperate parents and their offspring start filtering in, and expect Soundings to be as noisy as the rest of the aquarium. Still, waitstaff do their best to keep kids happy with coloring books, crayons, and goldfish crackers. —Anne Ford

Spa Cafe112 W. Monroe | 312-551-0000

$American Contemporary/Regional | Breakfast, Lunch: Monday-Friday | Closed Saturday-Sunday | Reservations not accepted

Spa Cafe offers a healthy and whenever possible organic alternative for a Loop lunch. We started with a sampling of the three soups: Okinawan sweet potato and chipotle, a smooth, somewhat spicy purple treat; delicate chicken "Chilango"; and a rather flat and watery turkey chili with corn and black beans. We then devoured our Thai chicken and organic marinated tofu lettuce wraps (the tofu version tasted more like chicken than the chicken), and found a buffalo-style chicken breast savory enough to offset our initial distress about being served something buffalo. And I enjoyed our grilled steak and avocado "quesaninni"—never mind the name. —John Kouris

Starfruit1745 W. Division | 773-328-2900

$Ice Cream | Daily 8 AM-11 PM

This new shop offers a twist on frozen yogurt stands, substituting frozen kefir, the cultured milk product Starfruit describes as the "lighthearted love child of taste and nutrition." It's available by the cup, with add-ins ranging from gogi berries to mochi balls to Cocoa Pebbles, or in fruit parfaits and smoothies. Organic frozen kefir is also available for an additional 50 cents, and Starfruit uses all-biodegradable packaging.

Sweet Cakes935 N. Damen | 773-772-5771

$Bakery | Sunday, Tuesday-saturday 8 am-6 pm | Closed monday

This laid-back, friendly Ukrainian Village bakery offers brioche and croissants in addition to cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and scones. A house specialty is the egg muffin, an Asiago-dusted corn muffin with a boiled egg in the middle. All packaging is environmentally friendly, and there's free WiFi.

Swim Cafe1357 W. Chicago | 312-492-8600

$American, Breakfast, Vegetarian/Healthy | Monday-friday 6 AM-8 PM, Saturday-sunday 6 AM-6 PM

Former caterer Karen Gerod serves fresh, organic foods from local and socially conscious vendors—Ineeka Tea, Naked juices and smoothies, and java from Just Coffee—and uses them in her sandwiches, salads, quiches, and sweets at this cafe awash in mild, bright shades of aqua and sea foam green. I can think of no more perfect treat for kids who've worked up an appetite across the street in the Eckhart Park pool than a PB&J on Red Hen's scrumptious chocolate bread. A tuna sandwich on pumpernickel gets a kick from capers, avocado, cucumber, and lemon, and a ham-and-cheese panini uses Jarlsberg cheese. By no means miss Gerod's cupcakes. She also bakes her own muffins, cookies, and scones, which she keeps diminutive by design—"small but rich" is her motto. —Susannah J. Felts

Terragusto Cafe & Local Market1851 W. Addison | 773-248-2777

F 8.6 | S 7.7 | A 6.3 | $$$ (6 reports)Italian | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | BYO

rrr Terragusto is a casual neighborhood cafe that happens to serve house-made pasta as good as—what the hell—any in Chicago. Owner and chef Theo Gilbert, who's worked at Spiaggia and Trattoria No. 10 and hawked his pasta at the Green City Market, works off a tiny but pristine menu: a handful of antipasti and fresh pastas, and family-style plates of meat and fish, all seared and roasted. The bywords are local, organic, and seasonal—at the front market counter, alongside the fresh pasta, there are multihued local eggs for sale. A deboned half chicken was glisteningly moist, and if I could I'd order the deeply flavored accompanying spinach as an entree. Baked polenta was texturally perfect, simultaneously yielding and firm; the current version on the seasonal menu is served with ragu and sausage made from Crawford Farms lamb. Thin Swiss chard pasta with Bolognese sauce benefits from a touch of white truffle, and on my last visit the capallaci—"bishop's hats"—stuffed with roasted pumpkin and squash were good enough to silence the loudest conversation. Entrees at market prices include Gunthorp Farms organic pork loin and a fish of the day, and there's a prix fixe option: a three-course meal for two is $36.50 per person, a two-course meal of antipasti and pasta is $27.50 per person (prices may vary seasonally). Terragusto is BYO, with a corkage fee of $1 per person. —Nicholas Day

Trattoria No. 1010 N. Dearborn | 312-984-1718

F 8.4 | S 8.6 | A 7.6 | $$$ (14 reports)Italian | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday

rrr Last year owner Dan Rosenthal was inspired by the plastic-bag-induced death of an endangered sea turtle to spearhead the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op, which has since used its buying power to bring environmentally friendly products and packaging to Chicago. At Trattoria No. 10 chef Douglas D'Avico has long been green, featuring organic and naturally raised products on his seasonal menu. Current offerings include a salad of organic beets with fennel, arugula, and goat cheese and an octopus carpaccio with watercress, blood oranges, and capers. Pastas include farfalle with duck confit and asparagus or fettuccine with wild-caught shrimp and grilled peppers. Sirloin comes from Painted Hills Natural Beef. Service is seamless and unpretentious, and the seating's cozy and private—this is a rare decent dinner option in the Loop. —Nicholas Day

Trotter's to Go1337 W. Fullerton | 773-868-6510

$$American Contemporary/Regional | monday-saturday 11 AM-8 PM, Sunday 11 Am-6 PM

You can't eat in, but gourmet to go reaches new heights at this Charlie Trotter venture, located in a strip mall on Fullerton. Holding the product here to the standards of his sit-down restaurant, Trotter offers carryout that's refined and elegant but still approachable. Organically raised meat and game roast on a wood-fired spit, while a heated display case holds entrees like tamarind-glazed Muscovy duck, Moroccan-spice-rubbed Wisconsin leg of lamb, and whole free-range chicken flavored with combinations like garlic, lemon, and thyme or lavender, honey, and rosemary. Marinated vegetable, noodle, and grain salads are all sold by the pound, and exquisite pastries, breads, cookies, and brownies are prepared in-house by the restaurant staff. The space itself is modern and clean-lined, decorated with colorful abstract canvases by local artist Annette Turow. And if dinner to go isn't enough, there are also specialty oils, vinegars, and sauces for sale, along with a mind-boggling range of cookbooks selected from Trotter's personal collection. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Uncommon Ground1401 W. Devon | 773-465-9801

$$$American Contemporary/Regional, Global/Fusion/Eclectic | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Saturday & Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 2, Monday-Thursday till midnight, Sunday till 11

It's on a flat stretch of Devon in the old Speakeasy space, but somehow the Rogers Park outpost of the Wrigleyville hangout Uncommon Ground has an Alpine feel—must be the fireplaces, upscale-rustic decor, and leather easy chairs. As at the original, the seasonal menu emphasizes locally produced, family farmed, and organic products including house-infused vodkas. (Order a "TreeTini," made with the pear vodka, and the restaurant pledges to plant a tree.) The menu's eclectic and surprisingly carnivore-centric given the crunchy mantras. I tried the Mediterranean Trio—hummus, eggplant salad, and tzatziki served with pita and marinated olives, the dips uniformly fresh with herbs. Duck confit quesadillas weren't quite the hit out of the park they sounded like, but I can't really fault them either. Large plates include bouillabaisse, a buffalo skirt steak, and bacon-wrapped meat loaf. Breakfast and brunch feature standards like huevos and a breakfast burrito but also specialty pancakes and a breakfast melt with Nueske peppercorn bacon served on Red Hen black bread—I am so there. The kitchen stays open till midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 PM Monday through Thursday, and there's live entertainment most nights of the week. —Kate Schmidt

Veggie Bite1300 N. Milwaukee | 773-772-2483

$Vegetarian/Healthy | Lunch, dinner: seven days | open late: friday & saturday till 11 | Reservations not accepted

When Veggie Bite opened its first location in far-southwest-side Mount Greenwood a few years ago, "we had a lot of walkouts," says co-owner Sylvia Watycha—people weren't sure what to make of an all-vegan fast-food joint. Eventually, though, the meat-and-dairy-free versions of buffalo wings, gyros, meatballs, and Philly cheese steaks caught on, and this April Watycha and her partner, Moshe Shalom, opened a second location in Wicker Park. The pair won't reveal their recipes or food suppliers, but will confirm that most of the items are made of textured wheat gluten. What's in the "golden sauce"—a bright yellow substitute for cheese in the chili-cheese fries—remains a mystery. —Kate Schmidt

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