By Bonnie Tsui
Chicago’s culinary scene has in the last year and a half been enlivened by big-name chefs: Grant Achatz, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Michael Shrader have all opened restaurants in that time. But you don’t have to make a reservation to sample the best in local cuisine. Lately, a number of hybrid restaurant-specialty markets have popped up, catering to customers who hope that, armed with the same spice rub, they can recreate a chef’s dishes at home.
In the industrial West Loop, where trains rumble by and the sweet scent of roasting cocoa beans from the long-operating Blommer Chocolate Factory wafts through the streets, Paul Kahan, chef of Avec, Blackbird and Publican, opened Publican Quality Meats (825 West Fulton Market Street; 312-445-8977; publicanqualitymeats.com; lunch for two, $25) as a butcher shop, market and 32-seat restaurant this year. On a visit this spring, people lingered over beer, sandwiches and cupcakes at the outdoor cafe tables; inside, a friendly butcher dispensed advice for prepping pork shoulder — “let it sit out for a little bit, and then do a nice salt rub” — as customers perused shelves of local goods (like the Chicago chef Bill Kim’s Belly Fire sambal), Publican-branded spices and products curated from staff travels (quince vinegar from France).
Since January, foodies have been making the pilgrimage to the Old Irving Park neighborhood for the warm elegance of Bread & Wine (3732 West Irving Park Road; 773-866-5266; breadandwinechicago.com; dinner for two, $60), a farm-to-table bistro with terrific Roman-style semolina gnocchi and house-made chicken liver pâté, head cheese and kielbasa. The small shop in the front provides solid picnic fixings with good, affordable wines, small-batch preserves and the restaurant’s own line of whole-grain granola, biscotti and other goods.
City Provisions (1818 West Wilson Avenue; 773-293-2489; cityprovisions.com; dinner for two, $80) in Ravenswood has already mastered the hybrid paradigm, serving wildly popular brunches and monthly supper club dinners that incorporate many of the ingredients on sale in its delicatessen — house-made sausages, honey and Bloody Mary mix, Roth Käse Grand Cru Gruyère, Potter’s crackers. Now, the owner, Cleetus Friedman, has added regular dinners that can be washed down with his own beer, as in one he makes each month with a local brewery.
At Southport Grocery & Cafe (3552 North Southport Avenue; 773-665-0100; southportgrocery.com; lunch for two, $25) in Lakeview, a veteran example of the city’s restaurant-plus-market concept, the chef and owner, Lisa Santos, does it best. The airy, bright dining room has booth tables along the side wall and the staff’s market picks on the blackboard: pork belly with Fat Toad Farm goat milk caramel sauce from Vermont (recipe available at the register), feta from nearby Prairie Pure Farm. The eclectic menu is strong in grown-up kids’ fare — cupcake pancakes, stuffed French toast, grilled Brie sandwiches, artisanal Italian sodas — and starred items are available in the grocery. Ms. Santos’s kitchen also makes and packages a line of products for the market, including bread pudding pancake mix, granola and blueberry preserves.
“When I first started in 2003, I’d been doing a lot of traveling to New York, which has a tradition of really great specialty food stores, and Chicago didn’t have those,” Ms. Santos said. “Now, what’s available has changed, and there are a lot more businesses in the city making things locally. Customers really like things that take care and thought to put together. The audience is there.”