Sky Full of Bacon

Two sort-of Asian places have opened recently and occasioned back and forth on Twitter and such outposts of cutting-edge discussion. Mostly negative. I’m more okay with both, though less than enthusiastic:


Lao 18 is Tony Hu’s new sorta-posh River North spot. It has come in for plenty of beating from people who think it’s dumbed-down Chinese inferior to his Chinatown spots. Okay, it probably is. The extremely Caucasian waitresses in their Suzie Wong outfits probably don’t know jack about real Chinese food or drink. The giant upside down soup cups that decorate the lounge are goofy, but c’mon, they’re funny. All that said— it’s not bad. When you consider the kind of gloppy Chinese that Hu himself was recruited to dish out by the gallon at House of Hunan a few blocks away 20 years ago, this is amazingly decent for vaguely authentic Chinese food in this Disneyland neighborhood. I tried four things— some dumplings, that old favorite black pepper short ribs, twice cooked pork belly and salt and pepper squid. To a man (or a squid), they were about 80% as good, or hot, or funky, or whatever as they would be on Wentworth or Archer. And of course, given the location, they cost more. But they were not a mockery of what you’d get there. They were a pretty good lunch for downtown. (The short ribs might have even made it into the 90th percentile.) I mean, sure, if you can hop the red line to Chinatown, do that instead, but it’s not a crime to open a Chinese restaurant across the street from El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria. I feel like the scorn is a preview of what Mario Batali’s in for when Eataly pops up and starts making Italian food a few blocks away.

18 W Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 955-8018


Mott Street has been praised as the hippest coolest newest thing from the hip owners of Ruxbin, and blasted as bland and underwhelming and bearing no resemblance to whatever the pre-opening publicity about serving “Asian night market food” implied. I’m of two minds about it. Mind #1 says that this is a pleasant place to hang out with a cool design, a nice patio, good drinks and very good and concerned service. Mind #2 says that there’s nothing here for $10 that is as good as something you can get for $6 somewhere else. (But give it credit for being $10, not $18.) The whiskey-soaked pork neck above, for instance, was chewy (maybe because it was cut in such thick chunks) and not very whiskey-soaked; you’d be better off with pork neck larb at TAC Quick. The Harry’s Butter Thighs:


was a real dud, Trader Joe’s-level depth of Indian flavor, you could have two really good things at Ghareeb Nawaz for the price. The fried rice with crab brains:


came closest to being an original and interesting dish, but didn’t have enough funk to get there. This “funky miso” broth:


was too bitter to eat. A few vegetables floating in the pungency of a household cleaning product, $8.

Okay, jeez, that was pretty rough. But I could still see going back with Mind #1 to hang out and have a drink and nosh on stuff. It’s just, if anybody tells you this is an exciting new addition to the local Asian food scene… no, not yet at least. Fat Rice is an exciting new addition to the local Asian food scene. Rickshaw Republic is. This is a nice place to have a drink, so far, and I hope the folks behind Ruxbin, which I do like a lot, can make it better for food over time.

1401 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 687-9977

So is there anything new and Asian I have liked lately? Yes:


People love the fried chicken wings and bowls of Korean stuff at Crisp on Broadway. Those people are not me. The wings are okay, the bowls are bland, like the Japanese place in the Northwestern station food court I used to order from because at least what they offered had vegetables in it, a novelty in the late 90s west Loop. I suspected the same of DAK Korean Chicken Wings up in Edgewater, which opened around January, had a brief flurry of enthusiasm, and hadn’t been heard from since.

Wrong. I loved these giant, soy-garlic and gingery pterodactyl wings, and I thought the bowl of bulgogi was pretty tasty for simple lunchtime fare, too. It’s pricy, perhaps, but I’m happy to pay more for what I like than scratch my head again at what everyone thinks is so great.

1104 W Granville Ave
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 754-0255


I’m probably going to be accused of dissing a new LTHForum fave for reasons of contrarianism or worse, so let me say that the last place somebody there (who has no love lost for me) found on 25th street, I loved and recommended unreservedly. (If the link doesn’t go directly, it’s slide #11.) A great find transcends earthly concerns. I had similar hopes for Taqueria Las Barrilitos, starting with the al pastor trompo in plain sight. Add in the housemade pickled onions and such and this looks like a place that cares a little more, which is the gist of the acclaim it’s gotten on LTHForum. Alas, my experience was more in the nature of a nice try; the pastor meat looked nice and crispy but didn’t have the rich, citrus-tinged flavor I was hoping for:


while the steak on the carne asada taco was overcooked nubs of again, underflavored meat. Thinking of La Chaparrita not far away I also gave crispy tripas a try, but the funky-not-in-a-good-way rings had none of the bacony deliciousness of that gem’s. Off days are always possible but this looked to me like how they like it, and I didn’t.


That said, I did spot and try a nice find on the way back to the car (besides this story, which I also came up with while down there to try Las Barrilitos), so the trip paid off— more on that shortly.

3518 W 25th St
Chicago, IL 60623
(773) 673-0102


Circling back to River North, Fabio Viviani is the celebrity name behind Siena Tavern, a massive operation routinely packed to the gills every night. The menu has some goofy modern touches— pasta in a jar— and things whose Italianness is questionable (they move a lot of crudo ahi tuna topped with salsa verde), but order to what they are likely to do well and they do well enough— everything executed pretty well, but not exemplarily well. Fabio’s mother’s gnocchi are beautifully tender, so one wishes the cream sauce they come in too much of had more of the other things on the plate (fried sage or parmesan) to give it flavors beyond, mostly, cream. A side of escarole with white beans, likewise, was a bit too bitter, swimming unsubtly in too much lemon, but you don’t order escarole because you don’t want bitterness, and with the occasional pop of a sweet tomato, it was a good, fresh-tasting summer dish. This has gotten some pretty tough reviews, and there are some misbegotten-sounding things on the menu that may well deserve that, but sticking to the hard-to-screw-up I thought what I had was about as good as most other downtown Italian places— though the fact that a Davanti Enoteca has opened a block or so away raises the bar for good enough Italian, for sure.

51 W Kinzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1322


Note: I’m writing for both the Reader and Serious Eats Chicago now (congrats to Nick and Abby on the birth of Mira!) and turning out more than I need to link to every one, especially since you can just click on my name and see everything at each site. But I’ll recommend a few things like this piece about unsuspected family disputes at the much-beloved Cemitas Puebla or this think piece about celebrity chefs (occasioned by Siena Tavern above) at the Reader, or this account of the nearly lost dish Akutagawa and this tribute to an underappreciated Loop-area shop, Bombacigno J&C Inn, at Serious Eats. And of course, the most important thing you can do is listen to the most recent, Tiki-focused episode of Airwaves Full of Bacon.

There are times I think I must be not only the most active food filmmaker in Chicago, but the world. This week was one, with three different videos turning up online and the sold-out premiere of a 4th— only the second time I’ve ever managed to have a public screening of one of my films, which usually I only get to see with my family or a friend or two. I did premiere Raccoon Stories at a party at my house with maybe 15 or 18 people, but until now the only big screening was the event Supreme Lobster planned at the Shedd Aquarium for A Better Fish and In The Land of Whitefish.

Since the new one, The Butcher’s Karma, was inspired in part by a panel* at last year’s Family Farmed Expo (now the Good Food Festival & Conference), while it was in production I contacted Grant Kessler, who describes himself as more or less the marketing guy for (even though he’s a photographer, not a marketing guy), and he immediately liked the idea of doing an event before the festival next month premiering the video and starring the three main characters of the film. Well, by the end we didn’t have any of the three main characters for various personal reasons, but we did have a sold-out house at Uncommon Ground…

and a fine dinner prepared by Uncommon Ground chef Chris Spear from pork supplied by Black Earth Meats (plus some pate sent over by The Butcher & Larder).

Yes, that was bacon and chocolate mousse. Anyway, a very appreciative crowd of about 60, quite a number of whom remembered the panel quite well (more than once I heard people talking about things that were said that were in the video, too); the film played after dinner and then Christopher Pax, who works for Black Earth, and I took a few questions. I’m not a personal-attention hog, but I’m not going to turn down getting applause in front of an audience, either, and this was up there with this in terms of making me feel good about the hours that go into this stuff.

So let’s see the film, you say. Well… hopefully soon. Because it involved shooting at Publican Quality Meats, which was not open yet and which had already made deals with various publications about exclusives on this or that, I have to get their signoff before it can be generally public. No question it will happen soon, it just may not happen right away. Just watch here for more details.

In the meantime, you can watch another video that I cut for Grub Street out of the footage from Publican Quality Meats. This one focuses on the store itself (which had just opened when it ran; the segment in the film is more in-depth about meat and farmers. (There’s only a tiny bit of overlap in terms of footage used between the two versions.)

But that’s not even one of the ones that premiered last week! I also shot at soon-to-be-open Nellcôte, and what I expected to be a short shoot about the unique flour mill they installed turned into a longer shoot involving actually making both pizza and pasta, so I cut it into two five-minute-ish movies:

And we’re still not done— the Key Ingredient series just keeps churning away at the Reader, and here’s the latest installment, with Iliana Regan, who does dinners in her apartment as One Sister:

Oh, and then I contributed to this Time Out Chicago bloggers’ roundup too: here, here and here.

So hopefully this quantity of material can tide you over until the 18th official Sky Full of Bacon podcast, The Butcher’s Karma, debuts. Big thanks again to Grant Kessler, Uncommon Ground (which by the way does a first rate job video-wise for a restaurant showing a movie) and FamilyFarmed.Org. And to everyone who bought tickets for the dinner… and allowed us to use the magic words “sold out.”

* I was already thinking about doing one with Bartlett Durand of Black Earth Meats, whom I’d met on a cheese junket, but the overall direction of the piece was finally set by the panel which included Rob Levitt, Paul Kahan, Durand and Herb Eckhouse of La Quercia, moderated by Ellen Malloy.

And kudos to anyone who gets that obscure movie reference. Key Ingredient returns after a two-week vacation with Kevin Hickey of the posh Four Seasons restaurant Seasons. The ingredient is Mountain Ash Berries, but the revelation for me was the squab you’ll see in the video, which was easily the best I’ve ever tasted. The article is here.

I’m doing so many little video clips at Grub Street now, many of them short one-take interviews, that I’m not going to link and embed all of them, but I will call attention to ones that are a little more artful and here’s one: Mark and Liz Mendez, shortly before the opening of Vera. Mark, of course, was in Sky Full of Bacon #15 as well as this Key Ingredient (back when Vera was going to be called Uva).

Library, The Public Hotel.

So Monday morning there will be an announcement which many have guessed, or simply assumed, to judge by the congratulations I’ve been getting since before it was official. I am taking the post of Chicago editor (which is to say, writer and editor of myself) for Grub Street Chicago. Which, if you don’t know, is a site which aggregates and creates foodie world news in several major foodie cities.

In doing so I’m going straight against what one of the best-known people on the Chicago food scene has just done:

A couple of weeks ago I went to an announcement party at Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar for Steve Dolinsky’s new site, Dolinsky, who is mainly known for his food segments for ABC 7 in Chicago, had (among his other gigs) been the food blogger at Vocalo, the bloggy offshoot of WBEZ which has now simply become He gave that up, and my friend Louisa Chu took it up:

One of the reasons Dolinsky told me he had left WBEZ and spiffed up his own site (for which he plans to create an impressive amount of weekly content) was that frankly, he felt he should be building his own brand on the web, not somebody else’s. I agreed completely at the time, and still do in general— and the value of my own efforts at personal brandbuilding were quickly affirmed by the owner of the restaurant introducing himself and turning out to be a Twitter follower of mine. (Okay, he follows 2000 people, but he’d responded to me on occasion, and I recognized his Twitter name.)

Afterwards, Louisa and I checked out the renovated Pump Room…

and the Library, which is a very nice, quiet bar, not at all overrun as I assumed this highly-hyped opening would be.

So why am I doing the opposite? Well, one, they’re paying me, and I really want to be able to afford to do things like go cool foreign places with my kids while they’re still young enough to tolerate me. (Happy 13th birthday, Myles.) As Mr. Mom/advertising freelancer/food writer person, I don’t exactly have the cares of someone depending wholly on their food freelance income, but I could certainly use an income. Two, although I have good access to the food scene and its notable figures, I’m sure just the needs of covering the scene will expose me to many more things much more rapidly. Three, I like the idea of being compelled to produce on a regular basis. To be forced to think up story ideas, day after day, to follow up leads right then. This is my training for the marathon, my fighting middle age contentment by taking on something new and demanding. Better to burn out than to fade away, and all that. So, I’ll be doing the grunt work of aggregating news from all over every day, but I’ll also be trying to produce original content just about every day, interviews and videos and slideshows and commentary. Bookmark it, if you haven’t already!

Marcus Jernmark and Chandra Ram at Plate Cooks.

Not that Dolinsky’s event is the only thing I’ve been to lately, but most of the others quickly got repurposed into material for Grub Street’s insatiable appetite. One was the industry how-to conference Plate Cooks, put on by Plate, a trade magazine based in Chicago whose editor Chandra Ram I’ve met on several occasions. Two different publicists invited me to events, one with Marcus Jernmark, of New York’s Aquavit, which used to be Marcus Samuelsson’s place. To be honest, I had never heard of him and barely of Aquavit, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with that here, but I had nothing else that morning and I figured, hey, I can attend a chef’s demo at Kendall, why not? Little did I know how grateful I’d be for this material the next week when I started filling in at Grub Street; you can see what I made of that here.

Another was a butchering demo with Rob Levitt and Michael Paley of Louisville’s Proof on Main; I’ve never made it to one of Rob’s butchering demos so it was a great chance to see one and share it, finishing the demo off with Paley’s coppa and fried pig tails:

After that one I stuck around for the next, a panel about sustainability, which included Randy Zweiban and Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which I had visited for the first time a few months back. I especially wanted to meet him… because I was already planning to have dinner with him that night. Anyway, Plate Cooks was a great industry event, strong on the technical side which I found fascinating, light on the showbizy-commercialized side even though it did have sponsored interludes (but even those, like Tony Priolo demoing risotto with potatoes in it, were perfectly respectable and worth attending). I’m definitely going to try to get invited again next year.

But wait, you were about to ask, how was I planning on having dinner with the co-founder of Zingerman’s again? Well, some months back the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, who invited Hammond and me on this, invited me to a bacon dinner at L’Etoile in Madison, part of the push around Weinzweig’s new book, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon.

And I’m not just repaying their hospitality when I say this was a fantastic dinner, worth the 3 hours each way. I was a little apprehensive about having salt/baconfat overload, but I should have know that L’Etoile’s Troy Miller would have a delicate touch with bacon, bringing out the flavor of numerous different bacons in delicate, surprising ways:

But the other great part of it was that I had the chance to talk with Weinzweig about the prospect of doing a Sky Full of Bacon video at some future date. As I said to him, “Think of some part of your business that you’re fascinated by but no one else seems to be interested in. I’ll be interested in it.” And he was receptive. (In the meantime, this short clip ran on Grub Street.)

So wait, you say, does that mean Sky Full of Bacon is still going? Hell yeh, it’s still going and Key Ingredient comes back this week, too. SFOB is certainly going to be quieter, I’ve tried to do a post a week no matter what, and that won’t happen now. But I’m going to make the next two promised videos on schedule, and there will be something here from time to time.

In the meantime I had a couple of suggestions to check out in Madison before I headed home the next day. One was suggested by one of the Milk Board folks, a very tidy and friendly German sausage place, Bavaria Sausage, where I picked up a bunch of really well-made sausages that went happily into a choucroute garnie that very night when I got home. The other was an old-school Italian deli, Fraboni’s, suggested by Matthew, who comments here from time to time. It’s not as impressive as Tenuta’s in Kenosha or Glorioso’s in Milwaukee, but you certainly wouldn’t be sorry you had it nearby, either, and I grabbed a nice sub (could have had better bread, but what was inside was just fine) for the road home.

Check me out at my new home, Grub Street Chicago, from now on, and my personal home here, too, at least once in a while when I have something to say or show here.

If you came from me being the blogger of the week at Gourmet Live, welcome! The main thing to see is my latest Sky Full of Bacon podcast in the viewer above.

I’m subbing at Grub Street Chicago this week, so anything new I write will be there. Key Ingredient is off for two weeks, but you can see lots of old ones by clicking on it under categories at right.

This week’s Key Ingredient presents a familiar face for Sky Full of Bacon… the first actual chef-y chef to appear in one of my videos, Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder, working with abalone:

The piece is here. And here’s Rob and his wife Alli back in their Mado days in Sky Full of Bacon #4, A Head’s Tale:

I was also featured this week in one of David Hammond’s ever-excellent radio pieces, on searching for interesting dining in suburban strip malls, along with Jennifer Olvera, author of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago. Find out more about it here, and if that link doesn’t work, this takes you straight to the audio.

Paul Virant during the quickfire challenge between Chris Pandel and himself at Perennial Virant, July 25. I posted a slideshow and recap at Grub Street Chicago.

Next is fascinating, perfectionist, imaginative and eye-opening— and, ultimately, a kind of cul-de-sac; nobody really thinks that Parisian dining from 1906 will spread nationwide. It’s a fantasy dining experience with a necessarily short life. But because Next and Grant Achatz are daring and endlessly fascinating, the restaurants that represent where dining is really going right now are pushed out of the limelight, half overlooked even in the best of cases. Paul Virant opening a restaurant on the doorstep of the Green City Market, returning to the city to do battle with the best chefs in town after years singlehandedly putting some place called Western Springs on the map, could have been one of the great stories of the year. Instead it’s— oh what, Paul Virant’s cooking fresh vegetables and artisanal meats? That’s nice. Have to check that out some— HOLY CRAP NEXT JUST RELEASED TWELVE MORE TABLES ON FACEBOOK!

I feel almost alone in my belief that the most exciting news about a name chef opening a new place in 2011 has always been Perennial Virant. As much as that other food may dazzle in its ingenuity, represent the pinnacle of a kind of competitive perfectionism, the food that speaks to my soul is the food that makes comparatively simple use of the best ingredients. As I wrote reviewing Vie a couple of years ago, “in my experience there’s no Chicago restaurant at work right now better than the meal I had last Saturday night, for its dedication to getting the best, richest, most purely satisfying flavor out of the best ingredients. And if you can think of other things a restaurant should be doing first, well, we just have different priorities, I guess.” I often feel there’s a disparity in what I want from fine dining and low end food— fine dining is intellectual, sometimes to the point of seeming bloodless, low end food makes your soul sing. Vie does a better job than anywhere of bridging that gap— not just applying haute skills to homey dishes, but using homey products, all that stuff he pickles and preserves and cures, in a way that has the complexity and sophistication of haute cuisine. I love fine dining, and I love barbecue and diner food and stuff like that, but best of all… I love not having to choose between their respective pleasures in the same meal.

Yet the first reports I heard on Perennial Virant, from people I give all due respect to, were not all that good. So I didn’t rush to try it immediately, hoping that a little time would help it find its footing. I went earlier this week for a PR event, a cookoff between Virant and Chris Pandel of The Bristol (who is also, like Virant, being pulled into the orbit of the Boka Group). While there I ran into LTHer Crazy C and her husband, and wound up joining them for dinner. Charlotte (that’s what the C is for) was back for the third or fourth time since the restaurant opened, and she had no doubts about the caliber of what Virant is doing here— even as she was dismayed by that day’s news of the departure of Boka Group pastry chef Kady Yon for the Public Hotel, home to The Pump Room.

The menu, maddeningly, is divided into small, medium and large, though it was hard to see, either in price or the actual dishes, any particular difference between medium or large. We didn’t worry about it and instead focused on what we knew were Virant’s strengths. A silky pork pate had its fattiness precision-cut by the sweetness of Virant’s housemade strawberry jam. Something called Ted’s Cornmeal Cake— Ted’s Cornmeal is apparently sold by Three Sisters at the Green City Market— combined crumbly cornmeal and gooey burrata into a dish that seemed like decadence on a farm in Iowa. A robustly smokey lamb andouille sausage was combined with small shrimp and cabbage cooked in a complexly flavorful broth. Gnocchi were too soft, almost mashed-potatoey for me, but a dish of smoked short ribs with pickled onions and spaetzle was terrific, like if barbecue had a baby by a German soldier.

Before dinner I told Kevin Boehm that one of the things I liked about GT Fish & Oyster was that it was priced, and had an atmosphere, where everything didn’t have to be perfect to make you happy. I’m not sure any restaurateur ever quite hears something like that as a compliment, but when everyone’s raving about a restaurant where you have to slam the computer keys to get in at all, and price and expectations are high enough that anything below perfection will disappoint, something about the relaxation of fine dining has gone out the window. And what I liked about GT is also one of the things I liked about Perennial Virant— I felt I could come back here next week, have a bunch of new things, and be just as happy with what I had that night. There’s no pressure on me as a diner to love it or else; the love for great ingredients at Perennial Virant is generous, unconditional love.

Disclosure: I was a media guest at the Quickfire, and chatted with both Virant and Kevin Boehm at different points in the evening, but paid for my entire dinner.

This week’s chef is Nick Lacasse at the Drawing Room; the ingredient is whelks, the article is here. Fun fact: as I was waiting for Julia for the shoot, a bunch of big black cars drove up and Mayor Emanuel emerged to go to lunch next door at Le Colonial. An odd time to be standing there with a tripod and a camera, but no particular interest in filming the Mayor…

Meanwhile, nothing here last week other than pig beauty shots because I was doing Grub Street Chicago. Here’s a link to the five days I did it, for posterity: M T W Th F

More practically, here are links to a few of the most interesting pieces:
Mark and Liz Mendez Talk Food at Their Wine Bar, Uva
Do Not Underestimate the Power of Next
Clandestino, Author Plan Vincent Price-Inspired Dinners
Blackboard Eats Launches Chicago Edition Under Editor Louisa Chu
Slideshow from Green City Market BBQ
Big Jones Fills Stomachs The Old-Fashioned Cajun Way

The beer issue of the Reader evidently got so big that it squeezed out this week’s Key Ingredient with Nick Lacasse at the Drawing Room; watch for it next week. In the meantime, I’ll be subbing for another Nick (Kindelsperger) at Grub Street Chicago, so look for me there starting Monday and through the end of the week.

Wouldn’t want you to be without video, though, so here’s a promotional video I made for Heather Shouse and her food truck book at the Goose Island “food truck summit” in April:

And enjoy these outtakes from the Michael Carlson shoot.

No new Key Ingredient this week as it’s the Reader’s Best of Chicago issue, but I have a few items in the best of— read them here, here and here. And— I had no idea until I saw it— I was nominated (but didn’t win) here. Actually, if you look at it, I started fully half the nominees, and have done work for the winner— hey, Audarshia, if you’re taking a vacation any time, I got ya covered…

Food trucks may be all the rage, but I’d like to put in a word for someone putting down food roots: Art Jackson, his wife Chelsea, her brother Morgan Kalberloh, his brother (Michael, I think), and the various other folks involved in the operation whose front face is Pleasant House Bakery. (They’re the subject of one of the best-of items mentioned above.) There’s a lot more to their whole operation than this modest cafe, but it’s the entry point, and one of my favorite new places to eat lunch, though it took me till yesterday to actually get there with a camera that had a battery in it (oops).

I first heard of Art when he commented on my very first video (here). We emailed back and forth about a subject that I had in mind for a video, urban foraging, and he wound up appearing in my 7th video, Eat This City, opposite forager extraordinaire Nance Klehm:

It was obvious that foraging wasn’t a stunt for Art, a way of punking the city, as it can be, but reflected a deep-felt belief that he should be growing and eating the fruits of his own neighborhood, even if that neighborhood was a gritty urban one like Pilsen. Fast-forward a couple of years, and that’s exactly what Art is doing:

This is Pleasant House the cafe, at 934 W. 31st St. The menu at the moment is short. There are three or four pot pies like the one above, maybe one pasty, some sides like mashed potatoes or, at the moment, English peas with mint, and some housemade sodas (the ginger is pretty great). There are also some English style meat products for sale most days, like bangers or back bacon, made by Darren who writes one of my favorite charcuterie blogs, Low on the Hog. (Bizarrely, he’s been in one of my videos too, albeit briefly— he was working at Leopold when it opened.) Bangers aren’t my favorite as a style, but I really liked the back bacon, if you see that, grab it.

There’s more to Pleasant House than this cafe— indeed, Pleasant House seems to be less a storefront than a state of mind. The name comes from Art’s grandfather’s farm in Yorkshire, but besides serving as the name of Art and Chel’s blog, it’s also come to stand for his parents’ farm west of Chicago, and the rapidly growing networks of vegetable plots on which they grow some of the vegetables they use (which was two when I wrote the Reader piece, but was already up to four by the time I had lunch there yesterday). It’s also their homemade soaps and beauty products, and will grow to include desserts one of these days, and… who knows what’s all in Art’s head, but he clearly has a vision, which he’s pursuing full time, of a sustainable life in which you grow what you use and you use the heck out of what you grow and try to be as self-sustaining with good and beautiful things as possible.

But how’s the food you ask? I’ve tried three of the savory pies. A steak and ale one is fine, but it’s what you expect, nice braised beef and vegetables. I say zip past that conservative choice and try the “chicken balti,” so bright with curry (and the coriander chutney that comes on the side) that just breaking it open released wafts of enticing aroma. But my favorite, indeed probably my favorite vegetarian thing in the city at the moment, is the kale and mushroom, as robust and comfy as a meat pie, but with all the self-congratulatory virtues of leafy green vegetables. A dish like this, and the vision and support system behind it, is what lifts Pleasant House’s savory pies way above the trend du jour (meat loaf, cupcakes) and makes it one of the great things in the city that is changing the way we eat. Eat this city at Pleasant House.

Pleasant House Bakery
934 West 31st Street
(773) 523-7437