February 17, 2018

Restaurants | ALA 2017 Preview

Cooking the Books: For this return to Chicago, Lonely Planet’s Laura Pearson helps librarians who want to go beyond the McCormick Place neighborhood find something different: six great Chicago restaurants by chefs who are also cookbook authors. Each of these establishments’ chefs have put out a cookbook or two (or nine…ahem, Rick Bayless). If you like your meal, consider adding
the source to your library’s collection.


Big Jones
5347 N. Clark St.

Up in Andersonville, chef Paul Fehribach pays tribute to Southern heirloom cooking and farm-fresh ingredients at Big Jones, where each menu—brunch, lunch, and dinner—is substantive and thoughtfully conceived. Start your weekend morning with a Big Jones Benedict, the Gumbo Ya-Ya, or “Eugene’s Breakfast in Mobile, circa 1930,” an Alabama catfish fried in gold rice and corn flour breading, served with plantains, rice, and beans. For dinner, reliable options include fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and crispy catfish. About that fried chicken: many people swear it’s the best in the city.

COOKBOOK: The Big Jones Cookbook (Univ. of Chicago)


Fat Rice
2957 W. Diversey Ave.

Macanese food, combining southern Chinese and Portuguese influences, is the name of the game at Fat Rice in Logan Square, co-owned by chefs Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo. In just a few years, as many accolades have been piled on this lively little restaurant as there are ingredients in its namesake dish—in other words, a lot. The paella-like arroz gordo (“fat rice”) is layered with Chinese sausage, Portuguese chicken thighs, salted duck, barbecue pork, linguica sausage, fatty prawns, sofrito-laced rice, clams, tea eggs, croutons, and various pickles and sauces. Whew. This inventive East-West menu will thrill the adventurous eater.

COOKBOOK: The Adventures of Fat Rice (Ten Speed)


Lena Brava
900 W. Randolph St.

Rick Bayless is much more than a renowned chef and restaurateur (and winner of Top Chef Masters): he’s one of the world’s foremost champions of Mexican cuisine. His best-known Chicago establishments, Frontera Grill and Toplobampo, are every bit as respected today as they were when they opened in the late 1980s/early 1990s—probably more so. Recently, Bayless transferred some of his enthusiasm for Mexican cooking to the West Loop by opening the Baja-inspired, wood-fired Lena Brava, replete with raw bar, Mexican wine, and an extensive selection of mezcal. For something more casual, try his next-door craft brewery and Oaxacan taqueria, Cruz Blanca.

COOKBOOKS: Mexico—One Plate at a Time (Scribner); Mexican Everyday (Norton); More Mexican Everyday (Norton); and many others.


Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
1747 N. Damen Ave.

This popular Bucktown restaurant, founded by award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal, specializes in more than sweets. There’s avocado toast, crispy chicken thigh, grilled flap steak, an egg-topped grain bowl, an extensive brunch menu, and more. But, seriously, don’t skip the mind-blowingly delicious desserts and signature drinks. A rum-spiked Mexican hot chocolate with house-made marshmallows and cayenne? Yes, please.

COOKBOOK: Cookie Love (Ten Speed)

Farmhouse Fare

The Publican
837 W. Fulton Market

This West Loop homage to pork, oysters, and beer is styled after a European beer hall and helmed by Paul Kahan, executive chef and partner at One Off Hospitality Group (the crew behind Blackbird, Avec, and more of the city’s best restaurants). Kahan’s working on his first-ever cookbook, due out in September, but meanwhile, you can enjoy the timeless farmhouse fare that inspired it: spicy pork rinds, an array of aged hams, dry-aged duck breast, a no-nonsense charcuterie plate, and other meaty dishes.

COOKBOOK: Cheers to the Publican (Lorena Jones; 9/17/17)


951 W. Fulton Market

All-star chef Grant Achatz looms large in the world of molecular gastronomy (and crazy-expensive restaurants—see: Next and Alinea). But the Alinea Group’s latest restaurant is a less fussy affair. In fact, the West Loop spot, featuring tasty wood-fired dishes, is downright fun. Think aged cheddar rillettes served with fry bread, creamy Carolina Gold risotto, a whole chicken with sunchoke sauce, and an always-bumping sound track. Several items are sharable.

COOKBOOK: Alinea (Ten Speed)

…plus, one restaurant named after a gastronomic writer:


432 W. Diversey Pkwy.

Tucked below street level in East Lakeview, this bright, intimate restaurant named after legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher serves up Spanish-influenced, seafood-centric dishes. Quintessential items include boquerones (white anchovies) with pickled fresno peppers and citrus-garlic olive oil on grilled baguette and cataplana, a hearty fisherman’s stew stuffed with clams, fish, shrimp and cobia collar.

COOKBOOKS: A few of M.F.K. Fisher’s many titles include The Art of Eating (Houghton Harcourt); How To Cook a Wolf (North Point); and Consider the Oyster (North Point).


652 W. Randolph St.

The visionary Curtis Duffy is highlighted in a film
about his famed Chicago eatery.

DVD: For Grace (dist. by Kino Lorber)

This article was published in Library Journal's June 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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