Once known as the "slaughterhouse to the world," Chicago helped create our mechanized, industrialized food system. But the Second City has come a long way since the days of Upton Sinclair. This is a town that loves to eat, and these days, whether its sustainable fishmongers or seasonal bakers, Chicago residents know where to find "food done right."
Bang Bang Pie Shop
Head baker Megan Miller and her coffee roaster husband Dave started Bang Bang Pie Shop as a food truck. They opened their Logan Square shop last April, with business partner Michael Ciapciak, who introduced hearty, sour cream-based biscuits to their store. Megan offers only three pies per week, a seasonal fruit, chocolate, and cream-based pie, using Smoking Goose lard in her crusts unless otherwise specified. She resists the demand for popular fruit pies out of season. Pumpkin pie will use real pie pumpkins, roasted in-house then pureed, rather than the industry standard of canned, which is often not the orange pie pumpkin but another variety of squash instead. The biscuits, available with or without Smoking Goose ham from Indiana, allow access to the butter and seasonal house-made jam bar. The signature black pepper honey can always be found among the soft, spreadable compound butters. Recent jams included a chunky blueberry lavender. Megan, Dave, and Michael work closely with their community, providing pie to church events across the street, and serving as a social gathering place. Sit inside on assorted recycled chairs, all painted red, or outdoors in the side yard planted with herbs, vegetables, and even new stone fruit trees.
The Butcher & Larder
Husband and wife owners Rob and Allie Levitt — head butcher and baker respectively — opened The Butcher & Larder, Chicago’s only sustainable, all-whole animal butcher shop, in 2011. At the now-shuttered Mado restaurant, where they won a Michelin Bib Gourmand as the chef and pastry chef, the young Levitts had forged relationships with small, Midwestern farm families who raised their animals responsibly. They’ve now set up shop further down Milwaukee Avenue in Noble Square, where the Levitts and their tight band of butchering chefs custom cut meat on an expansive butcher-block table out in the middle of the shop. It’s performance art meets meat. They offer the community more than just steaks and chops, making their own bacon, ham, corned beef, sausages, pâté, and other assorted charcuterie. Perhaps more importantly, they engage in dialogue, sometimes suggesting a lesser known, less expensive cut—and other times pull out a special occasion piece. Those who want to sink their teeth into even more will find author events and special classes. Except for Sunday, they serve a daily-changing menu of only two sandwiches—one hot, one cold. A recent pork belly creation: tender meat chilled then sliced tissue-thin, on bread soaked with crisp and super-hot house-made giardiniera. In the winter they add soups, like an intensely rich oxtail soup that might have served as a blood transfusion in a pinch. Feel free to eat in at the standing counter; there are no tables.
Chef/owner Cleetus Friedman started City Provisions as monthly farm dinner supper clubs, before opening his Ravenswood deli and catering company in 2010. This was after writing and performing as an aggressive, white, Jewish, hip-hop artist. Friedman works hands-on with local artisans, from bees to beers, and most recently a sparkling wine with Illinois Sparkling Company and Rare Tea Cellar called Freak of Nature. He built the shop with reclaimed materials, stocks it fiercely locally, bans petroleum-based materials in his kitchen, recycles, composts, and even cuts up squares of his own freshly laundered old T-shirts to use as hand towels. Friedman says when he looks around his shop he doesn’t see products—he sees relationships. Sit inside or out in the shadow of the Brown Line tracks, on an otherwise quiet and tree-lined stretch of Wilson, when weather permits. He employs his own in-house butcher and still cooks frequent farm dinners onsite, somehow finding time as the father of twins. Friedman, who lost his own father to scleroderma in 1991, helped create Cooking Up a Cure, which raises funds for the Scleroderma Foundation Greater Chicago Chapter.
Dirk's Fish and Gourmet Shop
Head fishmonger Dirk Fucik might have his name on the door, but it’s wife and co-owner, Terry, who has been bringing the gourmet to the sustainable seafood table since Dirk’s Fish and Gourmet shop opened in 2003. When the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Target Hunger Now program asked them to serve Asian carp at the Taste of Chicago to showcase the culinary potential for the invasive species, Terry created a recipe for Asian carp sliders. The Fuciks grilled her mini herbed fish burgers over hardwood charcoal, then served them with her tomato jalapeño chutney. Taste crowds—initially wary—were hooked at first bite. At their shop on the Clybourn Corridor, their pristine, fresh seafood is so beautifully displayed that you’ll never notice what’s missing: bluefin tuna—wild or ranched; unagi; imported sturgeon caviar, marlin, orange roughy, or shark. With nearly 40 years in the fish business, Dirk does his homework, consulting not only the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list but researching individual fisheries as well. Their classes teach not only cooking but sustainability too. Six seats at three bistro tables are available for sushi, sandwiches, sweets, and soups. Don’t miss their takes on classic fishermen’s soups, including gumbo, bouillabaisse, and cioppino.
Floriole Cafe & Bakery
Sandra Holl says that although her Paris-born husband Matthieu may not be a trained chef, his palate for pastry makes her a better baker. We can say merci to both Sandra and Matthieu at Floriole, the Lincoln Park cafe and bakery they opened in 2010. They got their start five years earlier, selling Sandra’s now-signature rustic seasonal galettes at Green City Market, made with fruits and vegetables from fellow vendors. Already beloved, the freeform pies are really special when studded with ruby red raspberries from Sandra’s mother’s garden, or harvested from the rooftop beds. Organic flour is used in her bread, pastries, and cookies, which surprises some stagiaires. But Sandra says part of giving back means taking the time to explain the importance of ingredients, including why they don’t make pastry cream from a powdered mix, and providing a good, enriching experience for the next generation of bakers. The bakery’s floor-to-ceiling front windows open completely in good weather, serving sandwiches, salads, and house-made yogurt, and there is cafe seating in back plus a handful of sidewalk tables. Floriole also hosts occasional collaborative dinners where dietary restrictions are accommodated—happily.
Katherine Anne Confections
Chocolatier Katherine Duncan has worked out of her shop space for years now, quietly making chocolate truffles, marshmallows, and caramels for a loyal following at farmers markets and small stores across the city. But her newly opened confiserie, Katherine Anne Confections, also serves French-inspired chocolat chaud, melting E. Guittard artisan chocolate into Kilgus Farmstead milk, before crowning Alice in Wonderland-oversized porcelain cups with marshmallow clouds. Duncan still infuses truffles with Seedling Farm fruit she purees herself whenever possible, and hand-grates carrots for uniquely American carrot cake truffles. She’s also collaborating with a different local chef each month to create a charity chocolate truffle. First up: a Bad-Ass bourbon bacon chocolate truffle by City Provisions chef/owner Cleetus Friedman, benefitting the Scleroderma Foundation. Duncan learned the art of confectionary from her mother, with some help from her library of cooking magazines, on her family’s sustainable farm in Wisconsin. The shop also serves locally roasted Ipsento coffee, locally blended Senteamental tea, and pastries from new farmers market vendor Beurrage, all at reclaimed wood tables.
Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar
Everyone in Bridgeport knows Korea-born owner Maria Marszewski is the namesake of Maria’s — and a few call her Mom too. She actually is Mom to Polish-Korean-American co-owners Ed and Mike Marszewski, and the gardienne of this classic slashie: half liquor store/half neighborhood bar. First opened in 1939 as Kaplan’s Liquors and bought by Maria in 1986 (who was supposed to be retiring from hairdressing, she’ll tell you all about it), the space was transformed by the brothers Marszewski in 2010. Mike did the DIY reno with restored and reclaimed wood. With nearly 500 beers in cans, bottles, and on tap, they may carry the greatest selection in the city. They serve predominantly craft beers and spirits, but still keep Old Style for longtime regulars. They also make their own ginger beer, in collaboration with Filbert’s, the South Side soda makers since 1926. Ed, who is also a patron of the arts, magazine publisher, and community organizer, plans to brew their own beer as well. It’s Ed who said the turning point for him was becoming a father. He changed Maria’s not only to be a better shop but also, he hopes, to help Bridgeport become “The Community of the Future”.
Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
Co-owners and life partners Ken Miller and Greg O’Neill opened their cheese shop Pastoral in 2004, but even after successful careers in tech and marketing respectively, they couldn’t have predicted the fruition of their little East Lakeview fromagerie. Now with three shop locations—they’re also downtown at Lake and Wabash and at the West Loop’s French Market—they also added a small 40-seat restaurant (Bar Pastoral) opened next to their flagship in October. While they carry artisan cheese from around the world, their best seller is the Prairie Fruits Farms chevre frais from Champaign. Their Midwest cheese platters with seasonal accompaniments and bread highlight the best local components at their peak. Their connection to artisan producers extends to how products are displayed, aged, and explained to reflect and respect their roots. When possible, Pastoral buys cheese from sustainable sources that grow their own feed for small herds of pasture-raised animals, and compost to better grow feed. The downtown shops are convenient and have their own charm, but the original store, with its worn patina and neighborhood sidewalk tables, is the one to visit to eat sandwiches, salads, and of course cheese at their perfect moment of ripeness.
Southport Grocery & Cafe
When chef Lisa Santos opened Southport Grocery, her modern, minimalist grocery and comfort food café in 2003, she didn’t have a preservationist on staff. But she just brought on board professional preservationist Melanie Molnar. After 10 years working in finance, Santos went to culinary school and opened shop on the Southport Corridor in Lakeview, but hadn’t canned. In fact it wasn’t until 2008 that she started canning with her mom, for their grocery shelves and cafe dishes too. In the years since, they’ve created a colorful jewel box of favorites, including Jake’s Giard, their crunchy housemade giardiniera, and Living Kraut. A Green City Market grilled cheese vendor uses her best-selling onion jam, and Molnar’s pickled green tomatoes, inspired by time at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, are edible contemporary art themselves, with undulating slices evocative of architect Jeanne Gang’s Aqua building captured in a jar. Lisa Santos carefully handpicks local and domestic products, meeting artisans personally. SPG also hosts regular, after-hours Drink Up Art events, with work hanging on their walls, bringing together artists and potential patrons over local food and wine tastings. Cafe seating and the takeout bakery sandwich grocery shelves are inside, with plentiful seating out front in season.
Star Lounge Coffee Bar
Owner Jesse Diaz opened Star Lounge Coffee Bar in West Town’s Smith Park area in 2007, in a space that was previously a neighborhood bar. He started out roasting beans upstairs in a hot air popcorn popper. Diaz now roasts at another site, in a professional Sivetz, under the label Dark Matter, with a shout-out to Bridgeport Coffee’s Mike Pilkington for letting him train there hands-on. Dark Matter supplies beans not only to SLCB, but a handful of local restaurants, including Alinea and Longman & Eagle. The bar back displays brewing supplies for sale, including Chemex beakers and pour-over cones. Diaz shares his encyclopedic knowledge of coffee in a nearly nonstop stream-of-consciousness caffeinated conversation, and he’s shockingly tolerant in a culture where hinting at milk, sugar, or ice can provoke a bitchface. Diaz focuses on the important things in coffee, like visiting farms in El Salvador to establish relationships with farmers and earning the right to buy exclusively from their trees. Diaz takes a more culinary approach to coffee with a menu of prepared coffee drinks and his own cold-brewed coffee— on tap and in bottles—called Chocolate City Coffee Bomber. Sip at the bar or backyard porch.