When it comes to eating locally, many of Chicagos restaurants have turned their attention toward nearby farms, giving diners the opportunity to enjoy meals prepared with fresh and local ingredients. Many chefs have established relationships with local farmers, and some even grow vegetables and herbs on site at their restaurants—when it’s not freezing that is. Here are a few spots that live and breathe “local and sustainable” and also have some of the most acclaimed food in Chicago.
North Pond (2610 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, 773-477-5845)
Many look toward chef Bruce Sherman as a pioneer of local and sustainable cooking. His romantic, landmark restaurant, set among lush shrubbery in a 1912 Arts & Crafts-style building in the heart of Lincoln Park (the actual park, not the neighborhood) overlooking a pond, has attracted diners for years with the promise of dishes served at the height of seasonality. Sherman, like Alice Waters in Berkeley, has patronized small farms and local markets for years to get the freshest ingredients possible.
Nightwood (2119 S. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-526-3385)
Husband and wife team Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds opened Lula Café in Logan Square more than 10 years ago, introducing local and organic cooking in a very laid-back setting. In spring of 2009, they nabbed their sous chef, Jason Vincent, propped him up in the kitchen of their gorgeous new Pilsen neighborhood spot and let the magic begin. Nightwood promised to source about 90 percent of the ingredients on its daily handwritten menu from local farms and the result offers super-tender spit-roasted Slagel Farm chicken; wood-grilled whole Wisconsin trout and course-ground Three Sisters polenta with black trumpet mushrooms and a farm-raised poached egg. And the pastas? All handmade in-house.
Province (161 N. Jefferson St., Chicago, 312-669-9900)
When chef Randy Zweiban left Nacional 27 after years helming the kitchen to open his own place, the expectations were high. Those expectations were met and exceeded through Zweiban’s dedication to not only ensure he provided incredibly tasting South American-influenced cuisine using local ingredients, but also the environment in which we’d enjoy it in would be equally green. The Gold Level LEED-certified space is as minimal as it comes, with whitewashed walls and splashes of hot pink. Fortified trees hang from the ceiling. Reclaimed woods grace the shutters. Patrons sit in PVC-free vinyl banquettes and regenerated Italian leather chairs. Cork flooring runs beneath your feet. All vegetable waste is composted by Growing Power Farm. And that glass temperature-controlled wine wall? It holds all biodynamic, sustainable and organic wine. Province is definitely setting a new standard in eco-chic dining.
Browntrout (4111 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-472-4111)
Some restaurants make mention of a few farms they work with on their menus, but at Browntrout, chef/owner Sean Sanders proudly posts the expansive list on a chalkboard in the middle of the restaurant. Farms like Werp, Gunthorp, Dietzler, Pinn Oak and Ellis regularly appear for items including lamb sirloin with black beluga lentils; braised chicken thigh with pumpkin spaetzle; or a spumoni made with mousse crafted from locally sourced cherries. On top of that, Sanders wanted to get even closer to home, so he built his own on-site garden where he grows many of his own vegetables and herbs. It may not be downtown, but Browntrout is worth the trip up to North Center.