Cherries are a true summer treasure — precious little rubies to stain your lips. Here are nine Chicago restaurants where you can enjoy them in sweet, savory, and boozy fashion.
“Growing up in Michigan, the cherry season was right at the beginning of summer,” executive chef Chris Gawronski says. At The Gage, he serves a savory cherry tart ($16) with sweet Michigan cherries, tomatoes, baby radishes, and whipped ricotta on top of a peppercorn short dough dressed with balsamic from Modena, Italy, and fresh-picked garden herbs. “This dish is a representation of the gardens that I had growing up in my backyard and the markets I would go to on the weekends to pick up local cherries from the surrounding farms.”
“I love utilizing seasonal ingredients any time I can in cocktails as well as items in our greenhouse,” says Eden’s mixologist Alex Rydzewski. In the Cherry Valence cocktail ($14), Rydzewski starts with Banks 5 Island rum, which he likes for its clean taste, then adds his house-made cherry cilantro syrup, balancing slight acidic cherries with earthy herbal tones. A little fresh lime juice and elderflower tonic finish off this refreshing summer drink.
“At Mango Pickle we update our bhel puri ($13), a popular street food in Mumbai, to reflect the seasons,” chef and owner Marisa Paolillo says. In summer, that means mixing red cherries and a sweet-sour chutney made of cherry, hibiscus tea, chili powder, and coriander seeds with crispy puffed rice and wheat flat breads. “As soon as the farmers at the Evanston Farmers Market have cherries, we will put it on the menu,” she says.
The roast quail and duck liver royale ($41) is one of the most decadent dishes on Brindille’s summer menu, served with porcini mushrooms, potato mousseline, and garden greens. Chef Carrie Nahabedian contrasts the game meat with a sauce made from cherry pits plus a gastrique of vinegar and the natural cherry sugars. “The cherries pair well with the richness of the quail, which has a filling of duck liver royale mousse,” she says. If that’s not rich enough, the entree comes with a side of bone marrow on brioche toast with garlic and herb butter.
Executive pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky fondly remembers eating Rainier cherries on her front porch as a kid and sources her cherries for cherry crisp ($12) from Seedling and Klug farms. “Cherries in particular scream summer to me,” she says. At Swift & Sons, she serves warm clafoutis (a very French baked custard with cherries) filled with cherry pie filling and a pretty lattice pastry crust on top. Fresh tarragon and black pepper vanilla ice cream rounds out the dessert. “I’m not reinventing the wheel here,” she says. “But I wanted to serve a dish that made cherries the star.”
Prime Midwestern beef filet ($39 for 6 ounces/$48 for 9 ounces) from Meats by Linz is paired with Klug Farm cherries in one of chef Jeff Vucko’s best-selling new summer entrees at Travelle at The Langham Chicago. “We pour the cherry bordelaise sauce table side for effect,” he says. “You can catch all the aromas and this process captivates your senses.” Vucko spices up his romesco sauce with cocoa nibs and cocoa powder and adds charred alliums for a smoky layer of depth.
As a kid, pastry chef Julianna Westgor fondly remembers going to Dairy Queen for Blizzards. “My all-time favorite Blizzard flavor always was and will be Chocolate Cherry Love.” For The Dearborn’s summer menu, she takes this flavor combination and adds some coconut for her chocolate cherry bombe ($13). She blends Valrhona‘s newest 68 percent Sakanti Bali dark chocolate with Caramelia milk chocolate for the mousse, combined with the freshest Michigan cherries.
On Saturdays, Delightful Pastries and Klug Farm are right next to each other at the Division Street Farmers Market. So, it’s only natural that chef Dobra Bielinski uses Klug Farms’ Michigan sour cherries in her cherry muffins ($2.50) that are normally available through July or however long cherries remain in season. The recipe is pretty simple and one Bielinski learned while living in South Africa. “We don’t eat muffins in Poland,” she says, explaining that in Poland, paczki and croissants are preferred pastries. “I use a wet batter that keeps the muffins moist and delicious.”
Bing cherry mille-feuille ($12) at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago‘s brasserie puts a fresh summer twist on the French classic. “We make our pastry cream with crème fraiche, which really brightens the flavor,” pastry chef Ashley Torto says. “Sweet cherries are the perfect combination with that tangy cream.” The rich cherry cream is layered with white chocolate between paper-thin layers of crispy puff pastry. “I will say after all my time in the kitchen, pitting cherries is my least favorite task,” Torto admits. “But at the end of the day, it is totally worth it to have the delicious, juicy fruit as part of any recipe.”
Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. Her writing and photographs have appeared in print, online, and on the radio for outlets including Four Seasons Magazine, NPR, Saveur, Departures, Rhapsody, Hemispheres, American Way, Private Air, Wine Folly, Plate, Chicago Magazine, Tasting Table, and Serious Eats. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley. Champagne, dark chocolate, and gelato are her biggest weaknesses. She also admires and supports CAASE in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.