Not to jinx it, but it’s fairly safe to say spring has officially sprung in Chicago. The sun is steadily shining, temps are routinely above 50 and menus are filling up with ramps and rhubarb. Two of the season’s most coveted ingredients have invigorated restaurants throughout the city after a winter filled with root vegetables and pumpkin spice. Here’s where to get your warm-weather fix in Chicago.
This underground pop-up is worth seeking out for its innovative, thoughtful cooking by chef Trevor Teich. He’s a wizard with seasonal ingredients and contemporary preparations, resulting in variations on local products like you’ve never seen. One such example is his salmon made with peas, coconut, fiddlehead ferns and ramps. It’s the fifth course of a tasting menu taking place May 15 (tickets here). “This dish is all the things that are wonderful about spring on one plate, and the ramps are the exclamation point,” Teich explains. Poached salmon is served with an herbaceous pea sauce, coconut and lemongrass foam, butter-sautéed morel mushrooms and fiddleheads — plus his favorite part of the plate, pickled ramps. “We do a light pickle on them with water, sugar, salt and champagne vinegar to let the ramps’ natural sweetness come through,” he says.
Pop-up locations (Photo by Izui Productions)
This Gold Coast bastion of Italian seafood just welcomed a new bar manager, Scott Stroemer, who is getting into the swing of things with new cocktails that sing spring. One example is his Sun Arise, which conjures warm feelings with its fix of George Dickel #8 Tennessee whiskey, a rosy rhubarb syrup, lemon juice, ginger and cardamom. Food-wise, Nico's pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky is getting crafty with rhubarb for her new pasticciotto pastry — a traditional Italian tart filled with orange pastry cream and topped with verjus-poached rhubarb, white chocolate crumble and rhubarb elderflower sorbet.
1015 N. Rush St.; 312-994-7100 (Photo by Sandy Noto)
Soho House Chicago
Rhubarb lends its luster to the most beautiful plate of French toast in Chicago at Soho House. Chef Alexis Rorabaugh gets her provisions from Wisconsin through Local Foods, using it as a bright accent to an exceedingly rich dish. She describes her French toast as similar to a bread pudding, with two-inch thick brioche baked in custard. "Rhubarb is a great accompaniment to something so rich," she says.
113 N. Green St.; 312-521-8000 (Photo via Soho House Chicago)
Chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris have a knack for seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. As regular supporters of farmers’ markets and nearby farms, their restaurant Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook is revered as a temple of wholesome Midwestern fare. Using ramps plucked by Tim Burton (not that Tim Burton) of Maplewood Farm in Indiana, they are serving ramp crostini with ramp butter. The ramp-tastic assembly is layered atop a toasted baguette, allowing greens to shine in all their glory.
601 Skokie Blvd.; 847-205-4433 (Photo via Prairie Grass Cafe)
Few things personify spring quite like a good ol’ fashioned slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie. The dynamic duo makes the season come alive in such a way that people wait all year for it. Beloved for their fresh pies just as much as their seafood and steak, Joe’s is once again slicing into its famed strawberry-rhubarb, baked in a flaky crust and served a la mode. It’ll be available from May 5 through June 1.
60 E. Grand Ave.; 312-379-5637 (Photo by Anjali Pinto)
Spring meets autumn in this particularly intriguing dish at The Signature Room. Chef Cardel Reid combines ramps and Japanese sweet potatoes, Yukon gold potato, spring peas, king trumpet mushrooms and a mushroom cream sauce. It’s a curiously tasty mix of flavors that don’t typically pair, but work here harmoniously.
875 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-787-9596 (Photo via The Signature Room)
With its recently implemented food program, Half Acre beer company is wasting no time diving headfirst into spring. Courtesy of chef Nick LaCasse, a new addition to the menu is grilled baby octopus dish with ramp salsa verde, cherry tomatoes, parsley and Sardinian couscous. The whole dish is vibrant and luscious, with the zesty salsa verde lending a dash of earthiness.
4257 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-248-4038 (Photo via Half Acre)
The Rhu Berrymore makes a scene-stealing appearance at Headquarters Beercade, which borrows inspiration from warm weather and refreshing patio drinking for its mix of vodka, rhubarb tea, blackberry popsicle reduction, rhubarb bitters, lemon and a splash of soda.
2833 N. Sheffield Ave.; 773-665-5660 (Photo via Headquarters Beercade)
213 W. Institute Pl.; 312-291-8735
Getting buzzed on rhubarb feels a lot better when it’s altruistic. Such is the case at Uncommon Ground, which is currently featuring the ingredient in its rotating Agripolitan cocktail, a drink that funds the restaurant’s urban agriculture internship program on its certified organic rooftop farm. The new formula contains Koval organic strawberry vodka and a simple and delicious strawberry and rhubarb shrub. Spring in a glass.
3800 N. Clark St.; 773-929-3680 (Photo via Uncommon Ground)
1401 W. Devon Ave.; 773-465-9801
Leave it to Ruxbin to dazzle diners with novel renditions of spring ingredients. Ramps take the spotlight for an umami-packed plate laden with green pumpkin seed risotto, almonds and shaved mushrooms. The ramps are blistered to achieve a nice smoky char before being nestled amidst the medley.
851 N. Ashland Ave.; 312-624-8509 (Photo by Monica Kass Rogers)
Argentina meets the Midwest at Rural Society, where chef de cuisine Cory Morris showcases the exalted and almighty ramp as a seasonal special on his meaty South American menu. Using ramps from the family farm of close pal Tommy Zarlengo, Morris serves them grilled with a pea emulsion, shaved heirloom carrots, pickled asparagus and pea tendrils.
455 N. Park Dr.; 312-840-6605 (Photo via Rural Society)
Why have ramps one way when you can double up? That’s the thinking at Mercat a la Planxa, where chef de cuisine Evan Behmer combines pickled ramps with a ramp salsa verde for a particularly springy plate. They’re welcome accents to a 30-day dry-aged short rib, which gets the sous vide treatment for 72 hours and finished on the planxa grill before getting the greenery. It’s all rounded out with radish, asparagus and bitter orange.
638 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-765-0524 (Photo via Mercat a la Planxa)
Almost like a vegetal riff on surf & turf, Presidio is getting crafty with ramps and soft-shell crab, two polar-opposite items that just so happen to represent spring in their own unique ways. The crab is tempura-fried and dressed with kimchi aïoli and a crunchy jicama ramp slaw. If you’re thirsty, wash it down with Presidio’s Straw Man cocktail, made with sherry, tequila, strawberry rhubarb puree, Gran Classico, lemon and orange bitters.
1749 N. Damen Ave.; 773-697-3315 (Photo by Rachel Bires)
This Humboldt Park gem gives ramps the tart treatment for the season. Along with spring milk ricotta, the dish is layered in a crisp, flaky olive oil crust for optimal spring indulgence. The tangy ricotta acts as a nice blank canvas of sorts for the ramps, which shine through in all their garlicky splendor.
1001 N. California Ave.; 773-904-7660 (Photo via Cafe Marie-Jeanne)
Everybody loves a trifle. Especially when it’s layered with gorgeous strawberries and rhubarb. It’s a fitting sweet finale for a meal in the sunny, airy space atop the Chicago Athletic Association hotel. The handiwork of pastry chef Jove Hubbard, the trifle is made with St-Germain compressed strawberries, hibiscus-poached rhubarb, angel food cake and Tahitian vanilla cream.
12 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-792-3502 (Photo via Cindy's)
Ramps adopt a Mexican accent at Cantina 1910, where the spring sensation gets served two ways as part of a brand new fish course. It's a roasted ivory char matched with a vivifying ramp mole fresca and grilled ramps for some added smokiness. Masa dumplings round out the plate.
5025 N. Clark St.; 773-506-1910 (Photo via Cantina 1910)
Homestead on the Roof
This season, Homestead on the Roof is getting pretty eclectic with its steaks, adjoining a prime rib-eye with both Southern and South American flavors. There's Carolina gold rice grits, braised sea island red peas, Bordeaux spinach and the grand finale: a charred ramp chimichurri.
1924 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-332-2354 (Photo via Homestead on the Roof)