No matter what the weather’s like outside, it is always cheery at this café. Lunch sandwiches—wine-braised pot roast on a baguette, grilled goat cheese with curried cauliflower on sourdough—feature next-level flavor combinations. Burger nights, weekly specials and an outstanding weekend brunch are perfect excuses to drop in for every other meal, too.
Mindy Segal rehabbed her Bucktown restaurant in the spring of 2012, making it sunnier and adding a huge garage door that opens to let in warm weather. Segal—first and foremost a pastry chef—also rehabbed her approach to desserts: Now, the pastry menu consists of a seasonal cake, pudding, pie, etc., and the dessert menu changes weekly. On the savory side, little has changed. The pretzel, the burger, the mac and cheese—breathe easy, it’s all still there.
Brothers Mike and Pat Sheerin opened their long-awaited restaurant in 2012, and despite Mike's departure to pursue his new projects in 2013, the menu has remained just as strong. Sheerin's dishes are not mere experiments; they’re proven theories of flavor, from the aged duck breast with duck and chicory sausage, braised endive, and cherry olive puree (genius) to the walleye with greens, bacon, chiles, garlic and yuzu. Their space, a restored bathhouse in Wicker Park, is a place you just want to hang out in, perhaps because the white-glazed brick wall of the bar room makes it feel a little like being in an Art Deco pool. And this is not only a dining destination but a drinking one as well, where Tona Palomino’s drinks prove, like Sheerin's food, to be an uncanny marriage of gumption and discretion.
You might have stopped by this Lincoln Square bakery for a croissant to go and missed the dining room hidden in back. The first-come, first-served policy means you’ll have a half-hour wait for brunch, but a cup of coffee and slice of coffee cake will tide you over. For the main event, don’t miss the corned-beef hash: the smoky-salty beef and potatoes are flecked with herbs and topped with two perfectly poached eggs. Lunch and dinner during the week focus on comfort foods, including a yummy, grown-up mac and cheese with leeks.
Just as at breakfast, which often starts with an amuse-bouche, dinner at the recently relocated Jam is a high-low experience. The soups (a homey vegetable chili on one visit) are poured tableside over intricate garnishes; meanwhile, what would otherwise be a basic kale salad is elevated by savory (that’s the herb, as well as a description) bread pudding croutons. Blue Plate specials read like diner staples, except the meatloaf is really a thick slice of meatloaf sausage, and the stroganoff is paired with pink slices of tender venison (and tossed with an addictive venison ragù). For dessert, there’s pie (tart apples, flaky crust, maple whipped cream). But since this is Jam, there’s also breakfast, and German chocolate pancakes slathered with coconut caramel and topped with a torched marshmallow are probably better at the end of the day than the beginning anyway. 3059 W Logan Blvd (773-292-6011). By David Tamarkin
Chef-owner Paul Fehribach brings the coastal South to Andersonville at this homey (and, frankly, bizarrely decorated) spot. But this is not simply jambalaya and gumbo—Fehribach approaches his food with a deep respect and contemporary cooking skills. The result is a menu filled with housemade hams and charcuterie, Southern-inspired fare like sweet tea-brined pork loin, and, yes, gumbo and barbecue. As good as all this is for dinner, it’s best for the “Boarding House Lunch”: biscuits, corn bread, spicy greens, mashed potatoes and crispy, juicy fried chicken.
There are exactly four bad seats at Nightwood. Anyone seated in the front dining room, along the open-kitchen countertop or at the intimate downstairs communal tables might never notice this pair of two-tops. But it was from the awkward vantage point of one of those tables, placed along a (reasonably broad) hallway, that I ate my first meal at this much-anticipated east Pilsen haunt from Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds, the owners of Logan Square’s Lula Cafe. And while I’ve never been “recognized” as a critic, my unfortunate seat at least confirmed my anonymity, a minor solace as I glanced at the welcoming assemblage of antique fixtures and modern furniture on both sides. But once a brioche bread pudding appetizer showed up in front of me, I didn’t want to look elsewhere anyway. The rich square of baked brioche, flanked by meaty slices of ham and stray pieces of crunchy snap peas, was homey and inspired. On a subsequent visit (at a much nicer table), the room again took a backseat, this time to a trout “BLT”: a fried egg and smoked trout layered over thick slabs of bacon on a slice of that same sweet, light brioche. And after the desserts—an angelically delicate blueberry-studded cake, a perfectly smooth chocolate crema hiding buttery hazelnuts—I realized it was no coincidence that the standout savory dishes had featured pastry. However memorable these dishes were, I’m hesitant to go on too much about them since the menu, executed by Lula vet Jason Vincent, changes almost nig
Go ahead and believe the hype about the cupcake here: It’s moist, it’s substantial but not heavy, and the thick, sugary icing hides deep flavors of chocolate and vanilla. If you’re going to pick up a dozen, you may as well stick around for breakfast or lunch. A bright start is the sweet and savory French toast with rosemary-roasted ham. Later, try the albacore tuna melt with local butterkase cheese and green olive aioli. Eat up, but save room for one of those cupcakes.