Sometimes you just have to get out of town, and this week we did just that. My good friend Louisa and I drove two hours South to the culinarily rich city of Chicago, Illinois. We had less than 24 hours, but I think we did the Windy City proud!
We checked into our hotel around 7:00 PM, just a little place on Logan Square called Longman & Eagle, and if that name sounds familiar it’s because it also doubles as a (well deserved) Michelin starred eatery. As well as offering what can undoubtedly be considered some of the best food the Midwest has to offer they have converted the upstairs into a six room boutique hotel. Each room is as different as it is stunning; a minimally hip and earthy aesthetic that is to die for!
The awe of our stunning accommodations eventually wore off, we collected our jaws from the floor and were on our way to Lula Cafe for dinner. From the outside Lula looks like a quaint and slightly quirky little cafe, but when you walk into the dining room it is casual but far more sophisticated than I had anticipated. We were immediately seated at a two top in the front window on a small platform with two other couples. Close quarters, sure, but charmingly so.
First thing is first: we started off sharing the beet bruschetta with baby kale, whipped goat cheese, shaved red onion, and mondadori balsamic. This was so light and flavorful, the perfect starter. The combination is pretty standard one, but somehow they made it taste new and innovative. For our main course we ordered two entrees to share, my choice being a locally sourced pan roasted chicken served with olive oil poached fingerling potatoes, kale, thyme, and a sherry breadcrumb vinaigrette. The skin was virtually caramelized, it was so sweet and perfectly crunchy. The meat was so moist and so tender and so plump, no chicken will ever compare. The potatoes and kale were so flavorful and set off the chicken perfectly. Louisa chose the garganelli, a house made pasta dish with basil and fenugreek rabbit sausage, gypsy peppers, black kale, gorgonzola piccante, and creamed garlic. The rabbit sausage was beyond smooth and really anything covered in creamed garlic can’t be bad. We ended the meal with a seasonal dessert, pumpkin custard with a ginger cream, chocolate croutons, some kind of gelatin, and pumpkin seed brittle. Luckily, our friend Tiffany joined us for the final course because it was being served in what was nearly a troft sized ramekin. This dish was so delicious and fresh, but also incredibly rich which didn’t stop Louisa from housing close to two cups of custard!
After a night of friends, fun, and photobooths we woke up and went downstairs to what Bon Appetit Magazine called one of “The Most Interesting Breakfasts in the Country” (Sept ’11). It was a Thursday morning, so there was a table or two open, but if you plan on trying L&E on a busier day of the week they unfortunately don’t reservations unless you are a guest upstairs. As we both slowly caffeinated ourselves I took in the similarly hip, down-to-earth and amazingly branded decor. A vintage juke box in the corner plays a mix of classic honky-tonk and low-key indie music, the impressive whiskey (etc) selection covered one entire wall, and all of the worn and natural wood played well off of the subtle golds and black throughout. We committed a very serious food-cation faux pas by ordering the same dish, but thank god we did. The sunny side duck egg hash with incredibly moist duck confit, yukon gold potatoes, spring onions, and a black truffle vinaigrette turned out to be one of the greatest meals of our lives. The eggs were cooked to perfection and the hash was bursting with flavor, very down-home. This was refined comfort food as its best. This was one of those meals that makes it hard to carry on.
On our way out of town we stopped by Milk & Honey to grab some of their signature granola to bring back with us and some freshly baked pumpkin doughnuts. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Our last stop was the Butcher & the Larder, I had never been and didn’t know what to expect but was pleased to walk into a bare bones natural butcher shop. The man behind the counter was incredibly helpful and I ended up going home with a great quality sirloin that I made for dinner that night.
I would say we made the very best of our abridged trip to Chi. The only problem with this trip was that it ended too quickly.
A charming Wicker Park cafe http://milkandhoneycafe.com
Chicago’s first locally sourced, whole animal butcher shop http://thebutcherandlarder.com/