Local restaurants, stores and other businesses are opening their doors in the wake of reduced restrictions, and they’re ready to win — or win back — your love and support. From elevated English pub fare in Lincoln Park and a new North Shore outpost of Sophia Steak to Mexican in Highland Park and a new outpost for Publican Quality Bread, here are the best spots to put on your must-visit list this month.
Food & Drink
Blended Health & Smoothie Bar, a Glenview favorite, is opening a second location in Evanston, serving signature — and super-healthy! — menu items like acai bowls, juice cleanses and protein drinks. Owners April Doremus and Samantha Dexter opened the Glenview location at the beginning of the pandemic; it was immensely popular. Now, based on their growing reputation for food and drink that’s both nutritious and delicious, Doremus and Dexter are building on their success with the new space in Evanston. “I’m excited with how we were able to survive and thrive enough to be able to try out a second location,” Doremus told the Daily Herald. “I think we just feel really blessed that’s the kind of community support we’ve had.”
In addition to smoothies and other well-recognized “health foods,” Blended will be offering intriguing cool weather meals like the Grilled Cheese Waffle and Homemade Tomato Soup (Doremus’ favorite menu item) and a 3-Day Juice Cleanse, bottled up and ready to go.
2002 Central Ave., Evanston
The Albion in Lincoln Park is the most recent effort from Julia Shell and Jamie Hale, the married partners behind AJ Hudson’s Public House and The Dandy Crown. The Albion Manor and The Parlour at The Albion offer two different dining and drinking experiences on each floor of a homey duplex. In case you’re wondering, “Albion” is the earliest known name for the island of Britain.
On the first floor of The Albion, The Albion Manor features a bar that runs the length of a large room, with high tops along the sides and six comfy “snugs” in back. Again, if you’re wondering, a “snug” is a U.K. term for a warm, comfortable place to, perhaps, snuggle as you watch international sports on telly. Upstairs, The Parlour at the Albion offers a full bar with abundant lounging areas, floral décor and a fireplace, a somewhat quieter space than the Manor below. The menu will feature “elevated English pub dishes” from Executive Chef Mark Hill, and a full bar of over fifty beers (twelve on draft), wine and cocktails from Sarah Syman, Beverage Director and Star Chefs 2021 Rising Star.
1480 W. Webster Ave., Chicago
Electric Greens in Revival Food Hall provides an opportunity for office workers in the Loop and Financial Districts to grab a health-conscious bite. “The idea [for Electric Greens] came together,” 16” On Center managing partner Bruce Finkelman told Eater Chicago, “after a tasting where Brad Alexander, the company’s head of culinary private events and catering, served a salad with an acidic vinaigrette dressing and pickled vegetables. ‘We were all blown away by it,’ says Finkelman, ‘the energetic taste of it. Why can’t a lunchtime salad be as impactful as a great dinner out?’”
So, what’s on the menu? The Al Pastor takes a cue from the pork-centric Mexican street food favorite Tacos al Pastor, with similar seasonings that include pickled pineapple and red onion, cilantro, and radish, but no meat…though there is coconut bacon. Equally awesome-sounding is Volt, a salad of baby kale, ricotta, sprouts, hemp seed crunch and electric vinaigrette. There’s also a selection of avocado toasts and sipping broths. It’s a healthy alternative.
125 S. Clark St., Chicago
Diver Cantina is the most recent offering from native Mexican and long-time Chicagoan Adolfo Garcia, who has another Diver location in the Old Town area of Chicago. “I chose to bring a restaurant concept to Chicago’s North Shore and didn’t want anything to stand in the way of offering my exquisite culinary creations and cocktails to this fabulous community,” says Garcia.
Garcia promises “authenticity” in his menu offerings, with his creative takes on traditional family recipes as well as “modern twists” on food from beachside towns like Tulum, Sayulita and Baja. Expect such deliciousness as the classic shrimp and hamachi ceviche, but also a vegan ceviche of roasted corn, avocado, and hearts of palm in a lime/basil marinade. For the more meat-minded, there’s a bone-in ribeye carne asada and brisket enchiladas. These and other dishes from Garcia can be savored on a big three-season wrap-around outdoor patio space with fire pits, a white marble bar, floor-to-ceiling drapery, and lush greenery.
1850 N. 2nd St., Highland Park
Conscious Plates, Latrell Garnett’s restaurant that was previously located in the Boxville Market in Bronzeville, is moving to a larger space in the Woodlawn Station development. With the help of a $178,336 Chicago Recovery Plan grant, Conscious Plates at its new location will continue to focus on “alkaline vegan” cuisine, which purportedly maintains the body’s homeostasis, prevents disease… and a lot more. According to the restaurant’s website, Garnett and his team aim to create “sovereign communities that empower people to have access to healthy alkaline food, holistic healing services, fulfilling work opportunities, and land and business ownership opportunities, all within one ecosystem.”
Typical components of the alkaline vegan diet include uncooked vegetables and fruits, as well as sprouted grains. What the alkaline diet looks like in practice are plates such as the meat-free Fajita Tacos (sauteed bell peppers, red onion, portobello mushroom on a spelt tortilla, with tomatoes and avocado) and Quinoa Cakes (quinoa, kale, onions, and alkaline spices.)
820 E. 63rd St., Chicago
2d Restaurant offers an immersive dining experience unlike any other restaurant space in Chicago. Hand-drawn, black-on-white tromp l’oeil drawings of walls, appliances and other artefacts might mess with your sense of reality – and that’s the fun of it. Hey, that bathtub looks like it’s drawn on the walls, just like the framed paintings, bookshelves, fireplace, and windows, but…it’s really a cartoon bathtub you can actually step into. Mind, blown.
Intricate, fanciful murals channel the look and energy of the Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” and in the summer there will be a large outdoor patio, also adorned with Instagram-able murals. Interior designer Vanessa Thanh Vu and husband Chef Kevin Yu teamed up with Chicago artist Mia Larson to decorate the space. And to eat, Yu is turning out some fascinating – and very colorful – Pon de Ring Donuts, what they describe as “éclair meets mochi,” as well as some good-looking fried chicken and chicken sandwiches.
3155 N. Halsted, Chicago
Sophia Steak opens a new location in Lake Forest, joining the first location in Wilmette, and the fourth North Shore concept from Ballyhoo Hospitality. “We’re excited to expand Ballyhoo Hospitality and connect with even more neighborhoods across the North Shore,” says Ryan O’Donnell, founder and owner. “Lake Forest has such a rich history and thriving community. Providing warm hospitality and great food, we look forward to becoming a gathering place for residents to catch up with friends and family.”
As at the Wilmette location, Ballyhoo Hospitality is partnering with Glenn Keefer — who you may know from Keefer’s Steakhouses — which means you can expect very high-quality beef and seafood. There will also be, we are promised, a “curated selection of crave-able salads,” likely including Sophia Steak favorites like Bill’s Classic Caesar and Super Green Vegetables, for you veg-forward eaters who find yourselves at this steakhouse and wonder what, in good conscience, you might be able to eat.
181 E. Laurel Ave., Lake Forest
First Slice Pie Cafe is a bakery and a “pie café,” offering a wide selection of cream and fruit pies, as well as more savory selections. Our eyes were caught by a menu section titled “70s Style Salads.” In this decade-demarcated listing, there’s a Curry Chicken 70s Style (with poached chicken, yellow curry green apple, and dried cherries) and Pesto Tortellini 70s Style (with tricolor pasta, mayonnaise, and cherry tomato). You’ll also find a wide selection of sandwiches, and we have our eyes on the Duck Confit and Mozzarella.
Mary Ellen Diaz, owner of First Slice Pie Café, was on leave from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises when she and her partner adopted a second child and she started doing volunteer work at a local soup kitchen. “It only took one night of making meals for people in need,” she said, “and seeing the smiles that made me realize I could do something here.”
1969 W. Montrose, Chicago
Mindy’s Bakery is headed up by James Beard award-winning and Charlie Trotter-trained Mindy Segal, long known as one of Chicago’s finest and hippest pastry chefs, as well as the creator of Mindy’s Edibles, a relatively new line of cannabis-fueled candies. During the pandemic, Segal’s HotChocolate was reinvented as Mindy’s Bakery, which was open only on weekends; at her new location, right around the corner from her old spot, her eponymous bakery will be open five days a week.
Late last year, on her Instagram feed, Segal told her public, “We are resurrecting the old and original space of Red Hen Bakery. It will be a bakery again, what this building was born to be…This bakery is something I’ve wanted my entire life. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted a bakery. We’re going to bake our little hearts out, and we can’t wait for you to come visit us.”
1623 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Publican Quality Bread headed up by Greg Wade, James Beard’s 2019 “Outstanding Baker,” is nationally recognized as a wonderful source for baked goods. You may have seen Wade on “Sustainable: A Documentary on the Local Food Movement in America,” available for rent or download on Amazon and other streaming services. This new 4,200 square foot location of PQB will offer a grab-and-go bakery, with a La Colombe coffee bar and a line of warm bread, pastries, and stacked sandwiches.
“We’ve come a long way since producing loaves out of the basement of Publican Quality Meats in the early days,” says Wade, adding that “Great, high-quality bread is something people have always loved, maybe even more so after a global fascination with baking throughout the pandemic. Prior to becoming a baker, I was working in restaurants, so this chef’s eye gives me a little bit different of an approach to baking. I’m excited to be able to flex that creativity more than ever before with our new facility.”
1759 Grand Avenue, Chicago
Vietfive is the West Loop location for Vietnamese-sourced, Chicago-roasted coffee that flips the paradigm: Vietnamese coffee is frequently roasted and then brought to the U.S.; Vietfive brings in the green beans and roasts them on site. The stated mission of Vietfive is to “elevate authentic Robusta Vietnamese coffee through traditional values and creative storytelling.”
Robusta beans from Vietnam are low in acidity and high in antioxidants, and Vietnam is the #1 producer of the Robusta bean and the #2 coffee producer in the entire world (!). Vietfive will feature Vietfive coffee, artisan banh mi empanadas, and matcha oat milk soft serve in a space designed and curated by award-winning creative director and Vietfive’s owner, Tuan Huynh. The story of Huynh is fascinating: when still quite young, he was sentenced a prison term. Having paid his debt, he now reflects that “being free is to be able to express myself completely, whole, unadulterated. That’s in creativity and how I build relationships with people, how I create and how I do business, but also how I’m able to give freely.”
1116 W. Madison Street, Chicago
The Goddess and Grocer has opened its fifth location in the hyper-hip Fulton Market neighborhood. “I am excited to open in Fulton Market as that is where I live now, and a two-block walk to work is a dream,” says owner Debbie Sharpe. “When I lived in Bucktown, I opened the first Goddess there because I wanted a neighborhood place, and now that the Fulton Market is my neighborhood, I had no choice!”
The first four locations of Goddess and Grocer have received a lot of love from the city of Chicago. Sharpe continues to gain fans for her globally inspired dishes, locally made pastries, house-made desserts, and made-to-order breakfasts, sandwiches, and daily specials, including keto and paleo options. The Goddess’ Fulton Market location will have double the retail space of Sharpe’s other locations, and it will be well-stocked with hard-to-find artisanal products, local and women-owned brands, and many wines from around the world, with a focus on organic and sustainable bottles. The beans for the popular Goddess Fulton Market coffee blend are roasted at local Metropolis coffee.
911 W. Randolph, Chicago
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- 30 of the Best Things to do in Chicago and the Suburbs in April 2022
David is a supporter of S.A.C.R.E.D., Saving Agave for Culture, Recreation, Education and Development, an organization founded by Chicagoan Lou Bank and dedicated to increasing awareness of agave distillates and ensuring that the benefits of that awareness flow to the villages of Oaxaca, Mexico. Currently, S.A.C.R.E.D is funding the development of agave farms, a library and water preservation systems for the community of Santa Maria Oxcatlan, Oaxaca.