Letter from the Editors: The Soul of the Chicago Restaurant Scene

By Caroline Hatchett

By

Caroline Hatchett
Illustration by Missy Rosa
Illustration by Missy Rosa

We arrived in Chicago in January amid the hand-wringing over 2017’s brutal round of restaurant closures. Have no fear. Chicago isn’t a restaurant city in decline, but we would like to see it fight harder for the soul of its scene: the 40ish-seat restaurant, where the intersection of creativity, risk, and real estate yield a sum greater than its parts. Ryan Pfeiffer runs the kitchen at one of the originals, Blackbird, and  Brian Ahern represents the new guard at Boeufhaus. However, as midsize restaurant groups grow and take up oxygen in emerging neighborhoods, we wonder about the future of the next Lula Cafe, Fat Rice, Parachute, Giant, or Elske.
 
Dine out, Chicago. Support your single-unit peers. There’s still an appetite for boundless creativity here.

There’s an even greater hunger for Mexican food. Chicago’s Mexican community has fully captured the city’s heart and imagination. We drank mezcal at Quiote and wines from Baja at Leña Brava. Alexander Roman serves modern conchas at Somerset. A regional Midwestern Mexican cuisine is evolving at Dos Urban Cantina, and a younger generation of Mexican-Americans has staked its claim on chef-driven dining.

The beverage community has stepped into a position of leadership. Chicago Style established the country’s first woman-run cocktail conference, and the duo behind Causing a Stir is doing grassroots work to promote female bartenders of color. “Spirit free” drinks are on menus all over town, and somms are pushing exciting bottles and developing wine-first restaurants that are advancing the city’s
palate.
 
Chicago has the most stacked pastry community in America, bar none. Nationwide, fewer restaurants are investing in pastry talent, but professionals like Mindy Segal, Dana Cree, Meg Galus, Anna Posey, and Greg Mosko have created a space where pastry is essential.

Here’s to the city’s most talented young professionals and the stories they have inspired.

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