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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Check out Chicago's growing 'garden-to-table' scene at these five restaurants

Written by
Anthony Settipani
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The words "garden salad" should be taken with a grain of salt at most traditional diners and cafés, but for several Chicago restaurants, it's an authentic stamp of quality. In recent years, a growing number of local establishments have taken it upon themselves to become more in tune with their ingredients by starting gardens of their own. Whether it gives them a leg up on sustainability or just a dash of hyper-local flavor, here are a few of our favorite garden-to-table restaurants in Chicago. 

Frontera Grill: Chef Rick Bayless is often credited with pioneering garden-to-table cooking in Chicago, and his restaurants reflect that approach. In 2005, he converted the backyard of his Bucktown home into an edible garden designed to supply his restaurants with fresh produce and herbs year-round. His menus seek to work in equilibrium with the changing seasons, producing salad greens, herbs, tomatoes, edible flowers, butternut squash and more.

23rd St. Café at McCormick Place: Savor...Chicago, which manages food preparation at McCormick Place, is far from your average catering company. In 2013, the Chicago Botanic Garden got permission to plant a sprawling rooftop farm atop the massive convention center, which now claims distinction as the largest rooftop farm in the Midwest. Check out the Windy City Harvest section of the menu for dishes prepared fresh with garden-grown ingredients, such as the garden herb salad with sun-dried Michigan cherries.

Uncommon GroundUncommon Ground offers seasonal fare centered around its extensive rooftop garden—the first certified organic rooftop farm in the U.S. Even the honey for your tea was likely produced on-site from one of the restaurant's four rooftop beehives. Among the fresh vegetables produced each year, you'll find heirloom tomatoes, beets, okra and countless herbs that all find their way into dishes prepared by chef de cuisine Alex LaBounty.

Garden View Café at the Chicago Botanic GardenThis scenic restaurant overlooking the Chicago Botanic Garden augments its dishes with local produce grown in both the garden itself and in collaboration with over a dozen local farms. It takes an educational track, striving to teach its guests about local environments and agriculture through the food that visitors consume. Try the Garden Superfood Chopped Salad, a blend of baby spinach, kale and quinoa with a scattering of seeds and dried berries plus an orange-agave dressing.

Pleasant House Pub: The offshoot of Pleasant House Bakery in Pilsen takes pride in its pies and pastries, which are baked with ingredients sourced from its local urban agriculture project, Pleasant Farms. Started in 2010 and growing produce in both urban Chicago and outside city limits, Pleasant Farms is an exercise in sustainability for owners Art Jackson and Chelsea Kalberloh Jackson. Order the "Royal" steak and ale pie for a hearty blend of beef, carrots, shallots and herbs all tucked away within Pleasant House's signature flaky crust. 

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