When you think of Brooklyn, what comes to mind? For me, it’s pickles. Pickles and Civil War beards. And hipsters riding gearless bikes, sporting said gnarly beards while eating homemade pickles from un-ironic Mason jars.
So when I heard that a “Brooklyn Bistro” was opening in the old A La Carte space on Green Bay Road in Wilmette, I was a wee bit concerned. Please, I prayed, don’t let there be hipsters on “fixies” serving the food. But bring on the pickles.
After dining at Firefly Kitchen, I was considerably relieved. Although I’m not sure what makes it a “Brooklyn Bistro,” I can tell you what makes it a good one.
Upscale Comfort Food
Executive Chef Dean Salerno, a transplanted New Yorker who married into the Chicago area, is aiming for upscale comfort food, and he pretty much hits the mark. He and his design team have transformed the space: the walls are painted a deep blue-gray with a few choice sayings written across them, the floors look to be made from reclaimed wood, and bare bulbs containing small sprays of light that resemble the eponymous insects on a summer evening hang in groups from the ceiling.
The beverage program is overseen by James Pierce (formerly of The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago), and he’s featuring many small, local craft distillers and brewers, including Death’s Door from Wisconsin, Evanston’s own FEW Spirits, Two Brothers Beer from Warrenville, and Metropolitan and Goose Island from Chicago.
Two of the “Shaken and Stirred” cocktails (all $12.50) really got my attention: the Got a Guy, combining smoky Marca Negra Mezcal with strawberry, mint, lemon and vanilla; and Knocking on Heaven’s Door, which features Death’s Door Vodka, fresh lemon juice, rhubarb tea and raspberry. We subbed in gin for the vodka and it was summery and delicious without being overly sweet. I returned the Ruby Slippers (FEW American Gin, Aperol and Cocchi de Torino, their take on a Negroni) because the balance was off, but that’s always a tricky cocktail to nail since it’s so unabashedly boozy.
Craveable Menu Options
Salerno’s menu is full of craveables, most of which appear on many menus around town, but given a twist such as the de rigeur mac & cheese (here with the added bonus of smoked pork), or a tuna tartare (which Firefly pairs with salmon tartare and layers Napoleon-style between thin potato gaufrette chips). There was a constant stream of personal Hibachi grills going out from the kitchen to the tables around us with skewers of chicken, steak and shrimp, but we did not partake.
Instead, we opted to start with the Maine Lobster Spring Rolls ($14), the crispy rice paper wrappers stuffed with sweet lobster meat, shiitake mushrooms, Napa cabbage and carrots, and served on top of a nest of pickled (aha!) julienne veggies and accompanied by a sweet, thick dipping sauce that was reminiscent of marmalade. This particular batch of spring rolls was under seasoned, which could have been avoided with a thinner, soy-based dipping sauce.
We absolutely loved the Grilled Veg Goat Cheese Terrine ($12), the herby goat cheese wrapped in paper-thin grilled slices of zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant and carrot and drizzled with a sprightly lemon vinaigrette. Delish.
Several salads were sampled. The Beefsteak Tomato Trio ($10) was another beautiful presentation, with three thick slices of heirloom tomato each sporting a different topper: Fontina and thinly shaved fennel; sweet onion and homemade ranch dressing; and fresh mozzarella and basil oil with roasted peppers and aged balsamic. A small tangle of lightly dressed mixed baby greens graced the center of the triangular plate.
Salads can be substantial, too, like the Grilled Romaine ($18), chockfull of smoky grilled elements (red onion, endive, portabella mushroom, red pepper), juicy chunks of medium-rare filet, shavings of both asiago and parmesan cheeses, all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. There was a lot going on here, but all of it was tasty business.
Excellent Entrée Options
Of course everyone serves Pan-Seared Salmon ($26), but Salerno’s version was particularly well executed, the perfectly seared fish leaning atop a mound of slightly bitter sautéed escarole, sweet oven-dried tomatoes and creamy white beans, adorned with micro-greens and some aggressively green basil oil.
You’d want to order the Roasted Organic Chicken ($24) purely on the basis of presentation alone, but it is also super tasty. They wrap the chicken around itself so that it resembles a very large pear; a sprig of thyme forms the stem as it perches atop sautéed rapini, surrounded by three crispy potato croquettes and a deeply seasoned lemon-thyme chicken jus. It’s a showstopper.
Sweet, Sweet Chocolate
Desserts are offered verbally, and on this visit they were all chocolate-based. Look, I love chocolate as much as the next girl, but I like a little variety. Toss me a bone—some stone fruit, some citrus, even a little coconut. But it’s a decent Flourless Chocolate Cake ($9), and a better-than-average Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake ($9) for those who want a little sweet to end the meal.
On nice evenings, the 35-seat patio in back is open for business and quite comfortable. Reservations are available (try OpenTable) for the 60-seat dining room. Currently, the restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday; Saturday and Sunday brunch will soon be added to the mix.
I predict that unlike its namesake firefly, the light of this “Brooklyn Bistro” will last well beyond summer.
111 Green Bay Road
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