11 Chicago Food Artisans to Watch

By Sarah Freeman  |  April 7, 2014

Artisan: it's a word thrown around so much these days that it's losing its meaning. We're defining it as a producer who takes the time, energy and resources necessary to make products that stand out from a sea of "artisanal" goods. Whether it's crusty bread, vibrant spice blends, pickle brine, hot sauce or cold-pressed juices, here are 11 artisans that remind us it's worth it to slow down and make things the right way.

  • Bad Wolf Coffee

    Why We Love Them: Jonathan Ory managed to achieve the level of pastry perfection that others only dream of reaching, and it only took him one year. The chef and pastry master started in savory, at elite kitchens from Schwa to Momofuku Ko, and then decided that it was time to master the art of sweets. He specializes in classic French pastry, from canelé to croissants, with military precision.
    Signature Item: Kouign-amann
    Where to Buy: Currently the pastries are only available in the coffee shop, but he is working on expanding to others, such as Ipsento.

    3422 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-969-2346

  • Buttermilk Bento

    Why We Love Them: After leaving the kitchen of Elizabeth, Sam McDermott decided to bring a bit of Japanese food culture to Chicago. His adorable bento box deliveries are filled with traditional dishes, such as onigiri, miso soup and yakisoba, as well as dishes with American twists, such as mac 'n' cheese onigiri with barbecue pork shoulder.
    Signature Item: None - boxes change daily
    Where to Buy: Twenty boxes are delivered each day via an online ordering system.


  • Cellar Door Provisions

    Why We Love Them: Starting as an underground supper club and moving above ground earlier this year, Cellar Door Provision is a one-stop shop for breakfast, lunch, rustic pastries and crusty bread. Owners Tony Bezsylko, Ethan Pikas and Justin Behlke (only one of whom has formal culinary training) stock the store using the highest quality local ingredients, such as Illinois whole grains for bread and housemade butter for scones.
    Signature Item: Country bread
    Where to Buy: Right now, the breads and pastries are only sold in the storefront, starting at 8 AM until they are sold out.

    3025 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-697-8337

  • Credit: Galdones Photography

    Harvest Juicery

    Why We Love Them: Krissy Sciarra took her culinary training and translated it into a business - the first chef-driven pressed-juice bar in Chicago. Her juices rely on her culinary training as well as nutrition knowledge, so not only are they packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, but they also taste good. Next up are limited-release farm bottles, made from ingredients grown on different local farms.
    Signature Item: Fennel juice
    Where to Buy: Sciarra recently opened a storefront in the West Loop, but her company also delivers.

    1012 W. Lake St.

  • G & C Pantry

    Why We Love Them: Chefs Mark Steuer and Sean Spradlin of Carriage House are making their Lowcountry flavor available in your home. The line of dry goods and pantry essentials started with the restaurant’s signature sweet-potato hot sauce and expanded into smoked jalapeño hot sauce and pickle brine. The Chicago-based company recently expanded to a retail outlet in New Buffalo, Michigan.
    Signature Item: Sweet-potato hot sauce
    Where to Buy: Currently only the pickle brine is available in the online store; the sweet-potato hot sauce is served with almost every dish at Carriage House.


  • Hello Ice Cream

    Why We Love Them: This James Beard Award nominee may be one of the finest pastry chefs in the country, but Dana Cree really just wants to make ice cream. She started tackling her dream last year when she began stocking the freezer at Publican Quality Meats with her gourmet goods. Every month four artisanal flavors are available for a limited time only.
    Signature Item: Bubble gum ice cream
    Where to Buy: The ice creams are made and often appear at Blackbird, but can be purchased by the pint at Publican Quality Meats.

    825 W. Fulton Market; 312-445-8977

  • Pinch Spice Market

    Why We Love Them: This small west-side market is filled with exotic scents and vibrant colors. Shelves are stocked with custom spice blends from Finger Lickin’ Chicken to Toast Crack along with unique spices such as za’atar. Most of the spices available are organic and several come with recipe suggestions.
    Signature Item: Toast Crack
    Where to Buy: At the storefront, of course, but also at Logan Square Farmer's Market and other local retailers.

    1913 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-360-8708

  • Popcorn Asylum

    Why We Love Them: Ben Zion was a bored law clerk making popcorn in his free time. Earlier this year, the passion project turned into a storefront with the help of Tim Zion and Justin Platt. Now, Zion pops a line of crazy flavors, from peanut butter and jelly made with dehydrated strawberries to seasonal beer popcorn make with Temperance porter.
    Signature Item: King Arthur Vermont cheddar
    Where to Buy: A shiny new storefront serves a weekly selection of popcorn and the full menu is available online.

    2823 N. Lincoln Ave.

  • Sparrow Coffee

    Why We Love Them: The roaster's specialty is simply making the best coffee for some of the most high-profile restaurants in Chicago. Founder Chris Chacko does so with a hybrid green coffee-roasting process that “sous vides” beans as well as fire-roasts them in order to bring out the perfect balance of acidity, sweetness, flavor, mouth feel and aromatics. This coffee has been compared to fine wine.
    Signature Item: Shakespeare 1.0
    Where to Buy: Coffee is sold by the pound online, but the best beans are specially roasted for restaurant clients such as Ada St., Fat Rice and Sixteen.

    1201 W. Lake St.; 312-648-6415

  • Urban Till, Corp.

    Why We Love Them: This hydroponic farm is growing fresh herbs, greens and vegetables at its west-side facility. Since opening last year, its client list expanded to include dozens of restaurants, including but not limited to Alinea, Balena, Grace, L2O, Naha, Table 52 and Vera. They did so thanks to an in-house chef who acts as a liaison between the farm and the restaurants.
    Signature Item: Hyssop
    Where to Buy: Everything from kale to microgreens can be "harvested" on the virtual farm, but their produce can also be found at some of the city’s finest restaurants.

    5410 W. Roosevelt Rd., Suite 212; 773-473-4380

  • West Loop Salumi

    Why We Love Them: Greg Laketek is making salumi the right way, using old-school techniques and ingredients imported directly from Italy. His small storefront has been open for less than a year, but quickly became a go-to for artisanal meats along the lines of chorizo, pancetta and soppressata. We like his cured meats so much we gave him a 30 Under 30 nod last month.
    Signature Item: Barolo salame
    Where to Buy: Laketek’s salumi is sold out of his storefront during the weekends as well as at local specialty retailers, including Eataly, and restaurants such as the recently opened Tête Charcuterie.

    1111 W. Randolph St.; 312-255-7004