There’s a magical sliver of time, from July to September, when a bounty of Midwest fruits and vegetable show up in all their bright, colorful glory at the markets. And then, almost as quickly as they arrived — POOF — they disappear. But lucky for us, some of our favorite local chefs have mastered the art of preservation, thus allowing us to capture all that deliciousness and enjoy it long after peak season is over. Chicago has no shortage of restaurants that utilize techniques like pickling, jamming, canning, and fermenting, all of which were designed to help stretch the lifespan of our food and prevent unnecessary waste without the use of additives or fillers. These practices are inherently simple and offer myriad possibilities for chefs to create and experiment—and these eight Chicago spots are doing just that, churning out dishes that reflect the best of the seasons year-round.
4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs, 708-246-2082
In the pantheon of seasonally driven restaurants in Chicago, Paul Virant’s acclaimed Vie restaurant in Western Springs stands out as one of the best. A self-proclaimed preservation enthusiast, Virant has a vast arsenal of tricks up his sleeve and constantly strives to introduce diners to preserved foods in all shapes and forms. From chutneys and salsas to pickles and preserves, Virant is always striving to source the best Midwest produce he can find and treat it in a way that captures the essence of the ingredient. His passion for this process even led him to write a book on the subject called “The Preservation Kitchen” and start his own line of “farm-to-fork” preserves, called Jar Sessions, which can be purchased online.
802 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-365-1745
When you walk into Bad Hunter, Randolph Street’s vegetable hub, you’re greeted by an enormous window peeking into the bustling kitchen. One can barely make out the chefs among the open shelves teeming with hundreds of jars filled with seasonal treasures. Executive chef Dan Snowden and pastry chef Emily Spurlin are adamant about finding new ways to save their favorite fruits and vegetables from throughout the year. What makes these two so unique in their preservation approach is their inspiration from international flavors and incorporation of botanicals one might not commonly associate with these types of products — think fermented fresno chile mustard, raspberry corn jam, and sour cherry chutney.
4539 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-506-9300
Lincoln Square doesn’t always get the attention it deserves when it comes to great restaurants, but Gather is changing that in the best way. This neighborhood staple is always packed from brunch through dinner and offers some of the most inventive and downright delicious seasonal fare around. When it comes to preserved ingredients, house-made hot sauces, jams, pickles, and even charcuterie are in regular rotation and regularly changing based on the chef’s and the season’s whims.
2610 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, 773-477-5845
It’s hard to beat the beauty and splendor of North Pond — I mean, it’s situated on a pond in the middle of a park. While the location and architecture of Bruce Sherman’s beloved Lincoln Park restaurant is iconic, the food is the true star. Known for his eclectic seasonal fare, Sherman is a master of flavor and always manages to find ways to give familiar seasonal ingredients new life. Preservation is one such avenue and examples are constantly strewn across the thoughtful yet vast menu. Currently in rotation are treats like roasted nectarine jam, dill sauerkraut, and fruit mostarda, among many others. When your meal reflects as much nature as the restaurant itself, you know you’re in for a magical experience.
1350 W. Randolph St., Chicago, 312-733-1314
Few restaurants have made as big a splash in the current Chicago food scene as Elske. Owners Anna and David Posey root their refined menu in the culinary traditions of Denmark. With the help of Anna’s art school background and the couple’s collective time spent working at Blackbird and The Publican, Elske’s menu houses a rotating array of conceptual, seasonal dishes that are as inspiring to look at as they are to eat. Preservation plays a big part in the cuisine here and can be seen in both sweet and savory applications. Selections of the moment include preserved lemons, tomato-vanilla jam, and hearth-roasted stone fruit preserves.
2537 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago, 773-489-9554
Before seasonal, farm-to-table fare took Chicago and the rest of the country by storm, there was Lula Café. Jason Hammel’s beloved Logan Square institution has remained not just relevant but consistently innovative since its debut over 15 years ago and has remained a favorite among not just diners but local chefs as well. Hammel seems to have an innate gift for working with produce and always manages to find new ways to present and preserve the best fruits and vegetables he can get his hands on. If you live in Chicago and haven’t yet been here for a meal, drop what you’re doing and go. You’ll thank me later.
4835 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 773-681-0651
Elizabeth is a special kind of restaurant with its own unique cuisine. Chef Illiana Regan grew up in the Midwest surrounded by farming and foraging traditions. When she opened her restaurant in 2014, her food began to be labeled “new gatherer,” or food that is representative of the region and sourced directly from the land. Preservation plays a big role in her rotating tasting menus (which always have some sort of theme) and highlights produce and botanicals in myriad forms. Her latest menu features preserved items including fruit leather and fermented cherries among many other treasures.
825 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, 312-445-8977
It’s hard to find a quality meat shop these days, but lucky for us, we have Publican Quality Meats to satisfy our cravings. Paul Kahan’s mecca of meat not only churns out some of the best salamis, sausages, and cured meats around, but also an impressive collection of preserved delicacies that make any charcuterie tray or sandwich come to life. To experience this magical spot in all its glory, have the folks behind the counter put together a custom charcuterie plate for you. This way you can try the best that the store has to offer both on the meat and condiment front, mixing and matching to your heart’s content.
Maddie Mays is a Chicago-born personal chef, caterer, and writer. Her love of gastronomy began with an introduction to the Food Network as a teenager and has since blossomed into a deep-rooted passion. She spent her early career in the food world working at the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving on to other notable spots including Detroit’s Sister Pie bakery, and Floriole Bakery, Read It and Eat bookstore, and The Social Table in Chicago. In her spare time, she can be found practicing yoga, hosting dinner parties for friends, and sifting through her ever-growing cookbook collection. Maddie is also a supporter of PAWS Chicago. Since adopting her two cats from the shelter, she has served as a volunteer and donated her cooking services as an auction item at fundraisers. Get in touch with Maddie at madonfood.com