September is Whole Grains Month, so swap processed grains for more nutritious, heart-healthy whole grains — which include the bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole grains are becoming increasingly popular, from buckwheat and barley to millet and whole wheat.
Look for the whole grain stamp while grocery shopping (there are 12,504 products registered for stamp use in 58 countries!) and try these tasty dishes at Chicagoland restaurants to inspire your cooking at home.
Hewn Co-Owner and Head Baker Ellen King has always been interested in baking with almost-extinct heritage grains, using local organic flour, natural starters, and long fermentation to achieve more complex flavors. The bread selection at the bakery rotates regularly and whole grain varieties include whole wheat seeded, spelt, Red Fife wheat, and holmenkollen rye. The bakery also sells seasonally rotating sandwiches including a grilled reuben with Butcher and Larder’s corned beef, Swiss cheese, housemade sauerkraut, and housemade thousand island dressing on caramelized onion bread. If you want to learn how to recreate some of King’s masterpieces at home, pre-order your copy of “Heritage Baking,” King’s first cookbook out in October. 810 Dempster St., Evanston, 847-869-4396
Rye bread is a key component for caviar service at Eastern European restaurant Heritage and bread shavings are fried to make rye chips, which pair with cured sturgeon in another popular appetizer. The housemade rye sourdough is flavored with a touch of cocoa powder, molasses, and brown sugar to cut back on the natural gumminess of the flour, according to pastry chef and baker Alan Krueger. The dough isn’t sweet at all, though. “The cocoa powder provides the deep brown color for the dough, a stark contrast to the muted gray color that the grain naturally expresses,” Krueger explains. “It helps draw out the muddled earthy notes of the dark rye grain.” The rye bread is brushed with oil and grilled over the wood fire for a hint of caramelization.
“We love the rustic quality and texture of the bread,” Chef/Owner Guy Meikle says. “It takes the stuffiness out of the presentation. It is very reminiscent of the loaves of black bread that I grew up with on Chicago’s South Side, in the very Polish/Czech neighborhoods surrounding 55th and Kedzie.” 2700 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 773-661-9577
Although she works at an Italian restaurant, croissants are Pastry Chef Leigh Omilinsky‘s pride and joy. When Chef Paul Kahan told her he wanted the best croissants in the city, she spent months perfecting the recipe. “My croissants never ever ever touch a freezer,” she says. “They are quite possibly the hardest project I have ever worked on to perfect.” Omilinsky decided to use spelt flour in her recipe to add earthy complexity to the buttery pastry. For breakfast, try a plain, chocolate, or ham and cheese croissant. At lunch and dinner, day-old croissants are used to make a budino di pane or bread pudding dessert with olive oil custard, fresh sliced plums, cardamom crème fraîche, and plum-lemon verbena jam and sorbetto. The lemon verbena and edible flower garnishes come from Omilinsky’s home garden. “It’s a very Italian mindset of using day-old bread to make something great,” she says. 1015 N. Rush St., Chicago, 312-994-7100
For a sophisticated twist on strawberry shortcake, Pastry Chef Erika Chan serves raspberry sorrel posset with sponge cake made from whole-wheat pastry flour. “Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread brought me some whole-wheat pastry flour, which is a new product at The Mill at Janie’s Farm, and we tried swapping out the cake flour for the new whole wheat,” Chan says. “It worked beautifully and the whole-wheat flour lends a sweet wheat-y flavor to the cake.” Wade is a two-time finalist James Beard nominee for “Best Baker” and he’s also using Janie’s Wheat to make bread that’s 90 percent whole wheat, 7 percent whole rye, and 3 percent malted rye. He likes malting grains to add a little sweetness, and this loaf has a crisp crust and fluffy, supple crumb. Try it when dining at Blackbird or The Publican, or buy a loaf for $6.75 at Publican Quality Meats. The Publican: 837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, 312-733-9555; Publican Quality Meats: 825 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, 312-445-8977
Although the menu at Michelin-starred Entente is constantly changing, Chef Brian Fisher‘s Carolina Gold rice risotto has been on the menu since day one. Currently it’s served with Australian winter truffle (every bit as good as French Perigords), creamy duck egg, pea tendrils, and Parmigiano Reggiano. “You’ve had the black truffle explosion [at Alinea] and the quail egg raviolo at Schwa,” Fisher says. “This is my homage to the lineage that I come from after working for Chef [Michael] Carlson for so long.” Fisher is also keen to highlight Carolina Gold, an heirloom rice varietal resurrected by Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills. “It was brought back from the brink of being wiped off of the planet along with a lot of culture and heritage of the American South.” 3056 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 872-206-8553
The farro salad is a popular lunch or dinner option at The Gage, tossed with a bounty of summer stone fruit, including various plums and peaches depending on what’s available from Klug, Seedling, and Nichols farms. “I envisioned it as a crunchy peaches and cream salad that should be very rich but is actually healthy and light,” Chef Chris Gawronski says. “Peaches have a creamy flavor and farro to me has a very similar taste to Cheerios.” Gawronski recommends lightly toasting farro in olive oil before giving it a hot bath in salted water to preserve the toothsome texture if you’re trying to recreate the salad at home. 24 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-372-4243
Chicagoland’s healthiest vending machine now has 186 locations across Chicago and Milwaukee, serving several whole-grain options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. New for fall, there’s a tarragon chicken salad made with free-range chicken breast, Greek yogurt, dried cherries, green apples, celery, and lettuce all wrapped in a sprouted grains wrap from Angelic Bakehouse in Wisconsin. The hearty wraps are made of hard red wheat berry, millet, oat groats, barley, rye berries, and amaranth. “Many wraps and tortillas on the market are full of preservatives and highly processed ingredients,” says Emily Splett, director of menu development at Farmer’s Fridge. “So this item is really special. Every wrap looks a little different because of the way it’s made from a whole grain mash, which fully aligns with the care we put into making each chicken salad wrap by hand before it goes into our fridges.” Multiple locations in Chicago and suburbs including 2650 Ridge Ave., Evanston Hospital; 757 Park Ave. W, Highland Park Hospital; 2171 Lake Cook Road, Northbrook Court
Chef Paul Fehribach never liked regular pancakes growing up. “I thought they were bland,” he says. “Mom liked to get us to eat whole grains whenever she could so she often made buckwheat pancakes, which I loved.” Now he serves pancakes made from an aromatic buckwheat flour that Anson Mills grinds to order for Big Jones at Sunday brunch. “Buckwheat can be a bit chewy used by itself, so we combine it with a gluten-free flour blend of peel corn oats, bennecake, and Carolina gold rice.” The complex blend yields a nutty and spicy pancake and Fehribach describes it as having “a pronounced grassy and tea-like flavor.” The cakes are dotted with sliced bananas and stacked with vanilla pastry cream for a rich banana pudding flavor profile. As if that wasn’t decadent enough, the finishing touch is a snowstorm of ground candied pecans and powdered sugar. 5347 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-275-5725
Because You’re Not the Only One Who’s Hungry…
We hope you’ll get the chance to check out all of these incredible spots around Chicago, but the next time you do, take a moment to remember how fortunate you are to be able to enjoy such fabulous food. Feed your stomach, then your soul by paying forward your good fortune and supporting one of these food-centric nonprofits.
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.