Just named one of Livability’s “Top 10 Best Downtowns,” Evanston has no shortage of strong suits, from the lakeshore, to charming Victorians, to Northwestern University, to easy access to the “L.” But what really sets it apart is the depth and breadth of its restaurant scene, a fact that goes seemingly unnoticed by the folks at the Michelin Guide and the Chicago Tribune, both of which regularly overlook all of the suburbs, as long as we are truth-telling.
One such overlooked gem was the late, lamented Quince restaurant under the whisk of chef Andy Motto. It toiled along for eight years in the long shadow of Trio, the previous tenant where Grant Achatz got his start, and finally closed last fall. But David and Holly Reynolds, longtime owners of the Homestead hotel, had other plans for the now vacant lobby restaurant. Prodded by Homestead G.M. Tina Warnke, they brought in chef John “Woody” Linton and opened Hearth in November.
Linton brings a more rustic sensibility to the menu. The ingredients continue to be top-notch, but the prices are more reasonable and the dishes perhaps more approachable than at Quince. They might not be Michelin bait, but they are certainly tasty and worth a visit.
This room continues to be one of the most serene around. The music level is tasteful and conducive to conversation; the service is civilized and the staff as helpful as can be. You’re more apt to see an NU econ professor here than a gaggle of coeds sipping illicit cocktails, and that’s just fine by me.
The menu is divided into Small Plates (cold and hot starters) and Big Plates (Sea, Air, Land, Ground), although many of the “small plates” are available in entrée size, and a few of the entrées are available as apps. You’ll be distracted by the fresh, hot chive biscuits they bring to the table with soft butter and olive oil, but try to stay the course. The biscuits are super tender with a slight baking powder tang. They quickly disappeared.
As a starter, the Sunchoke Soup ($8), a lightly creamy purèe of Jerusalem artichokes flavored with a drizzle of spicy olive oil, toasted hazelnuts and a sprinkle of smoked salt, is a terrific kickoff to the meal. The Grilled Gem Lettuce ($7/$14), tossed with red quinoa, fresh mango and a black bean vinaigrette, was an odd pairing, but the spicy Duck Jambalaya ($10/$20) was firing on all cylinders. Built on a solid platform of dark roux, tomatoes and Creole seasonings, it was chock-full of shredded duck confit and chunks of spicy Andouille sausage, all topped with straws of fried leek for crunch and fresh chopped scallions for brightness.
A large, boneless Duck Breast ($19) gets special treatment with a blood orange glaze and brothy red wine sauce, the better to be soaked up by wild rice and bright orange cauliflower. I found the date purée superfluous and overly sweet. A generous chunk of moist Potato-Crusted Salmon ($20) came perched atop a bed of orzo tossed with umami-laden black garlic; crunchy sautéed sea asparagus (although I could’ve sworn they were green beans) provided stark textural contrast. On one end of the rectangular plate was a puddle of red wine buerre blanc (yum!), while on the other was a small, bright red mound of what tasted like chow-chow (huh?). One-too-many ingredients in each of these dishes, but otherwise well done.
On an earlier visit, we enjoyed the Svickova ($24), a signature dish, and quite popular according to our genial server. Chunks of sautéed beef tenderloin join with wild mushrooms, sour cream and garlic spaëtzle to create a rich and hearty dish that will stick to your ribs (and your hips).
Perhaps our favorite dish was the Potato Gnocchi ($8/$16), the fluffy pillows of dough sauced with a deeply flavored prosciutto Bolognese, dollops of fresh mozzarella, grated Parmigiano, lemon zest and fried sage.
Desserts are no mere throwaways here. If you’re an almond fan, you will love the Almond Financier ($7), the buttery, nutty cakelet served with pools of quince puree and pastry cream and morsels of fresh fruit. The Peanut Butter Parfait ($8) was deemed a must-order item after the first bite of brownie base, peanut butter mousse and addictive, crunchy peanut brittle.
Looking for an expertly made cocktail and a top-notch burger? I also recommend stopping by the Homestead Lounge on the other side of the lobby, where Beverage Manager Ryan Scheler is pouring both a mean classic Sazerac ($12) made with Bulleit Rye, and a tasty London Fog ($12) with Earl Grey tea-infused Ceres Vodka, lemon juice and Framboise.
Hearth aims to please, and succeeds.
1625 Hinman Ave.
More from Make It Better: