Now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, summer is in full swing — despite the cool temps — which means that the annual farmer’s markets have officially returned to Chicago.
From bright green asparagus in the Spring to juicy apples in late Summer and early Fall, farmer’s markets are a treasure trove of ingredients for both the home cook as well as the restaurant chef. In fact, as the farm to table restaurant trend continues to grow, more and more restaurants are looking to local farms to supply their ingredients. But what produce is their favorite? And what are they cooking up with their seasonal fresh produce?
Check out this list of eight Chicago restaurants who work with local farms and artisans to get the best food on the table, which farmer is their favorite, and what they’re cooking up with that produce. A few chefs have also chimed in with a tip or two about how to choose the best ingredients for your next meal at home.
Check Elizabeth’s articles out on Facebook. To receive email updates, be sure to subscribe. Email Elizabeth here.
Consomme with clam from Storefront Company
Chef: Bryan Moscatello
Restaurant: Storefront Company
Address: 1941 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
Favorite farmer: Lloyd Nichols at Nichols Farms
Produce from the farmer: Squashes, blossoms, baby lettuce, sun chokes and more.
Example of a dish that uses the produce: Consomme with clam, potato, smoke, lapsang tea, and blooms.
Tip about shopping at a farmer’s market: “Produce in season, ramps are going strong but local production is on its way out. Green garlic is getting up and running along with spring onions. Rhubarb is going strong along with morels and peas. Asparagus has just begun and I just got some cattail shoots. As for picking produce at the market in general most vegetables should be firm to the touch with a rich vibrant color. Stay away from soft vegetables with dulling and turning colors. Fruits should also be firm but not rock hard.”
Chef Moscatello’s Wicker Park restaurant prides itself on “farm cuisine.” In addition to its menu featuring local ingredients, it also has a wine bar with an extensive cocktail and wine list.
Global pub fare at Red Door
Chef: Troy Graves
Restaurant: Red Door
Address: 2118 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60642
Phone: (773) 697-7221
Favorite farmer: Peter Klein of Seedling Fruit (based in South Haven, MI)
Produce from the farmer: Rhubarb, cherries, apples, assortment of berries, ground cherries, melons, apples, pears, plums
Example of a dish that uses the produce: Currently, rhubarb and doing grilled baby octopus with sweet and sour rhubarb, and rhubarb, parsley salad
Tip about shopping at a farmer’s market: “I would recommend that people go early when the produce is at its best. I also would say to get to know the farmer as they often times have items the keep behind the scenes.”
Chef Graves’s Bucktown gastropub serves global pub fare that includes a fun assortment of snacks — everything from chicken liver to lamb bacon; veggie plates; small plates; and even bigger plates.
Fish with sweet corn & chowder at Sepia
Chef: Andrew Zimmerman
Address: 123 N. Jefferson St., Chicago, IL 60661
Phone: (312) 441-1920
Favorite farmer: Tracy Vowel at Three Sisters Farm in Kankakee, IL
Produce from the farmer: Sweet corn; coarse and fine white cornmeal; pea shoots; zucchini; buckwheat shoots; winter squashes
Example of a dish that uses the produce: Pan roasted halibut with curried sweet corn and clam chowder
James Beard Award nominated Chef Andrew Zimmerman serves a product-driven menu in a stylish renovated 1890 print shop in Chicago’s West Loop. He’s paid a great deal of attention to everything at Sepia: from the rustic decor and Art Nouveau floor to the seasonal menu, including the housemade pastas, chutneys, and jams. Many of the fresh ingredients are sustainable and/or organic.
Chef Enoch Simpson
Chef: Enoch Simpson
Address: 1851 W. Addison St., Chicago, IL 60613
Phone: (773) 687-8191
Favorite farmer: Peter Klein of Seedlings (South Haven, MI)
Produce from the farmer: The stone fruit: peaches, plums, nectarines
Example of a dish that uses that produce: “One dessert recipe that I like to make is smoked apricots with cornmeal madeline.”
Tip about shopping at a farmer’s market: “Listen to the farmers since they usually are excited about something new that they just picked that morning. They will tell you what the best produce is to buy.”
Opening in June 2013, Endgrain will serve New American Casual Cuisine in Roscoe Village. The menu will feature everything from snacks — such as house-cured jerky — to appetizers and entrees that use locally-sourced ingredients, including confit chicken pot pie.
Soft poached egg from Filini Bar
Chef: William Johnson
Restaurant: Filini Bar and Restaurant
Address: 221 N. Columbus Dr., Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: (312) 477-0234
Favorite farmer: Farmer Jeanne Sexton at Meadow Haven Farm (Sheffield, IL)
Produce from the farmer: Organic pasture-raised eggs
Example of a dish that uses the produce: Crispy soft poached egg with truffle emulsion, root vegetables, and frisee
Tip about shopping at a farmer’s market: “The way to choose the best produce at the market is to get there early and listen to the farmers. The farmers in my experience are very forward and honest about their products, they will tell you which items are at the peak and which ones are on their way in or out. You have to let your senses guide you, it starts with your eyes and ends with your hands, a sniff or a small taste if possible. The good thing about the market is that you know the product is fresh because it was grown X miles away. Ramps are a huge hit at the market but are on their way out, fresh herbs, lettuces, hot house tomatoes. If it’s at the market it’s pretty much a good buy.”
Lamb meatballs from Found Kitchen
Chef: Nicole Pederson
Restaurant: Found Kitchen & Social House
Address: 1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston, IL 60201
Phone: (847) 868-8945
Favorite farmer: Slagel Family Farm (Fairbury, IL)
Produce from the farmer: Lamb and beef
Example of a dish that uses the produce: Lamb meatballs with pistachio chimichurri and yogurt
Owner Amy Morton’s vision for her community-based restaurant has always been about “finding” things — and that includes sourcing ingredients from local farmers and artisans. Chef Pederson serves rustic new American dishes that changes based on what she finds in the market. As such, the menu is always evolving, but one thing remains the same: simple but striking dishes that pair well with the cocktails that are also locally sourced. Depending on the time of year, look for flatbreads on the menu, along with a number of reasonably priced entrees, such as smoked fish tartine.
Chef Jared Van Camp
Chef: Jared Van Camp
Address: 833 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60607
Phone: (312) 432-0500
Favorite local farmer: “It’s like trying to choose your favorite child or song since there are so many, but one couple is Brent and Beth Eccles of Green Acres Farm in North Judson, Indiana.”
Produce from the farmer: “It changes month to month, but right now [May 2013] it’s spring so we are getting lots of asparagus and watercress. In the summer, we get tomatoes, in late spring we get peas and in the fall we get winter greens, and winter squash, etc.”
Example of a dish that uses the produce: “When peas come into season we love to make English Pea Agnolotti with smoked guanciale, roasted grapes, and pea shoots.”
Tip about shopping at a farmer’s market: “Getting to know the farmer and creating a trusting relationship with them. Looking someone in the eye shaking their hand and getting know them.”
Goat cheese salad from Cru Kitchen
Chef: Alex Shalev
Restaurant: Cru Kitchen & Bar
Address: 25 E. Delaware Place, Chicago IL 60611
Phone: (312) 337-4001
Favorite local farmer: Different farmers for different products. He loves Werp Farm’s baby mustard greens and micro greens. They grow organically in northern Michigan and deliver on Thursday every week.
Produce from the farmer: For vegetables, he prefers Green Acres Farm. Prairie Fruit Farms and Creamery makes the best goat cheese. Nichols Farm & Orchard has more than 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Mick Klug Farm produces excellent fruit (cherries, berries, peaches, nectarines and apricots). Finally, Seedling Farm makes the best cider.
Example of a dish that uses the produce: In the goat cheese salad (with strawberry, basil, baby greens, crispy mushroom and balsamic), he uses Werp Farm’s baby mustard greens and basil, and Prairie Fruit Farms and Creamery’s goat cheese. For his seared scallop dish (with pork cheek, beer caramel, creamed spring spinach, fingerling and nori) he uses Nichols Farm & Orchard’s spinach and potatoes.