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Best Restaurants Chicago

Chicago Makes Its Mark on Nashville

Chefs and restaurateurs are expanding their Chicago brands southward to Nashville.

Headquarters Nashville

Headquarters Nashville

Although Nashville is roughly 450 miles South of Chicago, the two cities have never felt closer thanks to a recent uptick in restaurant expansions and chef movement. The draw for Chicago restaurants and bars to branch out to Nashville, essentially the closest Southern city to the Midwest, is multifaceted. Not only are the rents cheaper and the land much more spacious, but burgeoning neighborhoods and a hungry, excited clientele make for a veritable blank canvas for creativity. Here are some of the latest examples of Chicago’s unique—and ever-widening—connection to the Music City.

Headquarters Beercade: Nashville’s most recent Chicago import, Headquarters Beercade brought its famed mix of vintage arcade gaming, crafty cocktails and elevated bar fare to Broadway. The expansion marks the first Nashville locale for Machine Hospitality Group, which owns Headquarters, who’ve tapped Zach Rivera and Scott Donaldson to helm the beverage program and food menu, respectively. This includes 35 seasonally changing beer cans, 12 draft beer handles and nostalgia-inspired cocktails like the Mott’s, made with Stoli Apple, cinnamon applesauce and lemon juice. For food, Donaldson pays homage to Headquarters origins with an Italian beef sandwich, plus corndogs with sriracha cream, spicy buffalo cauliflower and lots more. Then there’s the 30-plus free arcade and pinball games, spread over 5,000-sq.-ft. of space, outfitted with comic books, vintage mirrors and more Chicago touches like antique newspaper stands.

Sunda: One of Chicago’s most prolific and perpetually popular restaurant and bar groups, Rockit Ranch Productions, chose Nashville as their first foray outside the Second City. The group is keeping busy with a targeted fall debut for a Nashville outpost of Sunda, its wildly popular modern pan-Asian restaurant known equally for sushi and celebrity sightings. Sunda’s current chef de cuisine and partner Mike Morales will serve as the new location’s executive chef, and Rockit Ranch CEO Billy Dec aligned with Nashville’s Fresh Hospitality for the project. Sunda-lovers can expect a, 8,000-sq.-ft. space in The Gulch neighborhood, with many of the same dishes and drinks—like lemongrass beef lollipops, miso-glazed cod and tuna truffle nigiri—that helped cement the restaurant as a Chicago fan favorite.

Parson’s Chicken & Fish: Another one of Chicago’s most popular restaurant and bar groups, Land & Sea Dept., has also targeted Nashville for its first expansion outside Chicago. The bar in question is Parsons’ Chicken & Fish, Logan Square’s perpetually packed patio haunt famed for its fried chicken and Negroni slushies. It’s headed to Wedgewood-Houston in the fall, bringing its people-pleasing blend of booze, comfort food and al fresco lounging in a space with enough room for 200 diners. When it debuts later this year, it’ll be in good company too, part of Nashville’s forthcoming May Hosiery development where an outpost of New Orleans’ St. Roch Market food hall is also taking shape.

Nicky’s Coal Fired: Among Nashville’s newest and most exciting entries is hot in more ways than one. Recently opened in The Nations neighborhood, another up-and-comer on Nashville’s cultural and dining scene, Nicky’s Coal Fired is a restaurant with a palpable Chicago connection. The husband-wife duo behind the restaurant, Tony and Caroline Galzin, made names for themselves in Chicago restaurants for years, working at places like recently shuttered mk The Restaurant, Le Colonial and Leopold before decamping Tony’s hometown for Southern pastures. Partly inspired by their mutual love for Chicago’s Coalfire pizzeria, the couple employed a massive four-ton coal-fired oven for their aptly dubbed restaurant, the first of its kind in the city. Here, they crank the heat up on pizzas, seasonal small plates, vegetables, pastas and more. It’s complimented by European beers, wine on tap and Italian-inspired cocktails, all served in a comfortable 100-seat restaurant housed in the industrial Stocking 51 Building.

Fort Louise: Another chef is making moves to Nashville, while maintaining his prominent role in Chicago. Greg Biggers will stay on as executive chef at Cafe des Architectes in the Gold Coast while also serving as chef/partner of a casual restaurant hinged on American comfort food in Nashville’s Inglewood neighborhood. For the chef, an Alabama native, newly opened Fort Louise affords him a unique opportunity to tap into his roots and balance out his fine dining experience with something more low-key. Located in a cottage-like house, the cozy restaurant and bar is quite the juxtaposition to his tasting menu restaurant inside the shiny Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile. Here, the focus is on snacks and entree plates for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.

Weekly Planner: Happy Hour at Broken Shaker

Happy Hour at Broken Shaker

Broken Shaker

Broken Shaker

New happy hours are a dime a dozen these days in Chicago, but the version taking place at the Broken Shaker may be the coolest (and most irreverent) yet. It’s called the “Happy Hipster,” and it’s a playful, nostalgia-inspired combo that features a secret recipe burger with fries and a domestic beer for $14. It’s sort of like an adult happy meal, and it’s even served in a box. The combo is available Monday through Saturday from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Industry Mondays at Arbella Happy Hour 

One surefire way to kickstart the week into gear is with discounted drinks at Arbella. One of the most exciting and unique cocktail bars in River North, Arbella provides more incentive to swing through on Mondays with its new industry nights. Between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and midnight, members of the hospitality industry will get 25% off select cocktails and street food-inspired snacks from the late-night kitchen.

Beer Flights at The Florentine

In other boozy news, The Florentine has rolled out new craft beer flights. Both city and suburban breweries are on deck for the menu offerings, each flight consisting of three 6-oz. pours. The City Flight consists of Baderbrau Brewing Company’s South Side Pride Lager, Maplewood Brewery’s Son of Juice American IPA and Off Color Brewing’s Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale. The Suburban Flight, meanwhile, contains Solemn Oath Brewery’s LÜ Kolsch-style Ale, Two Brothers Brewing Company Dog Days Dortmunder Lager and Temperance Beer Company’s Greenwood Beach Blonde Ale. As an added bonus, guests can also create their own flight, with options from Ohio, Michigan, California and Colorado in addition to Illinois.

#GoingOverBoard Dinners at Oyster Bah

Since summer weekends are never meant to end, Oyster Bah has implemented a fun new dinner series that keeps the merriment going with its #GoingOverBoard dinners on Mondays and Tuesdays. Each week for dinner, Oyster Bah offers special Alaskan king crab and Maine lobster dinners starting at 5:00 p.m. for $43.95. Guests get to choose from 1-lb. steamed king crab or 1.5 lbs. steamed lobster. Dinner is served with fries, cole slaw, garlic bread and drawn butter for dipping. Altogether, the experience feels like vacationing on a beach, celebrating the best of summer eating. Space and supplies are limited, so reservations are suggested.

The Polenta Bar Brings a Taste of Northern Italy to the West Loop

In recent years, fast-casual dining has manifested in many different ways, in part triggered like a Domino effect by companies following the Chipotle model of customized food, quick service and quality ingredients. From noodles and salads, to Middle Eastern food and poké, Chicago’s fast-casual scene has a lot to choose from, but none are quite as wholly original as The Polenta Bar, the first dedicated polenteria in Chicago and one of the first in the country at large.

Polenta Bar

Polenta Bar

The cozy West Loop newcomer hails from owner Emile Chalouhi and chef Camillo Villa, both of whom are brand new Chicago transplants looking to bring a taste of their homeland to their new city. The space is warm, sunny and inviting, which is quite a feat considering its located under the El tracks. A mural running the length of the dining room depicts structures and buildings from the city of Milan, where the owners are from and where polenterias are local staples. But hidden in the mural are little touches of Chicago, like buildings bedecked with the city’s famous Art Deco architecture. It’s not just for looks either; it’s a nod to the secret synergy between the two cities. Not only are Chicago and Milan sister cities, but as Chalouhi describes it, both places share similarities in their fast-paced lifestyles and their colder climates. Hence, the niche of wholesome Northern Italian comfort food served fast.

The Polenta Bar

The Polenta Bar

Polenta is slowly churned and warmed in special contraptions imported from just outside Milan. They dispense warm olive oil-infused polenta similar to soft-serve ice cream machines. Here, the creamy cornmeal is filled into bowls for customers to load up with toppings of their choice. A far cry from your standard cafeteria-style fare, all items here are meticulously cooked by Villa, slow simmered made with top-tier ingredients. This includes taleggio cheese fonduta, pork and beef bolognese, chicken cooked with white wine and spicy, plump Milanese sausage splashed with tomato sauce. The Polenta Bar also offers a dish of the month option, currently a wild boar stew, with venison slated for April. Diners than choose their vegetables, all free of charge.

The Polenta Bar also added a small wine program featuring Valcalepio Wine, a producer that along with everything else at the restaurant, from the owners to the equipment, hails from Northern Italy.

Eight Wild New Foie Gras Creations in Chicago

With its equal-parts proclivity for both savory and sweet applications, foie gras is one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen, a sentiment that Chicago chefs and pastry chefs have taken to heart in recent years.

Foie Gras Creations @ Band of Bohemia

Foie Gras Creations @ Band of Bohemia

Band of Bohemia: Affectionately nicknamed the “foie-sicle,” the foie gras fudgesicle at Band of Bohemia may very well be the dessert of the summer. A surefire way to up the ante on this childhood ice cream pastime, the foie creation is the handiwork of ever-inventive pastry chef George Kovach, who dips a chilly blend of foie gras, banana, almond, pink peppercorn and kaffir lime in chocolate. True to form, it’s all served on a stick for optimal licking, with foie gras’ innate creamy richness blending in nicely with the chocolate and banana.

The Purple Pig: One of the most exciting morning developments in recent memory has been the addition of breakfast to The Purple Pig’s portfolio. While fresh pastries, breakfast piadinas and fried smashed potatoes are all exciting in their own rights, the star of the menu is Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s unabashedly decadent breakfast sandwich. The chef layers foie gras on a fluffy house-baked English muffin with truffle sausage, egg and membrillo, a tart quince paste that serves to balance the foie and sausage.

The Duck Inn: One of the most playful (literally) interpretations of foie gras in Chicago can be found at The Duck Inn, where chef Kris Delee is forming foie gras mousse into Lego shapes for a dish inspired by a quintessential afternoon snack. The snack in question is “ants on a log,” the dish consisting of peanut butter smeared on celery and dotted with raisins. In updating the childhood favorite, Delee is naturally giving the dish a look modeled after childhood toys, with foie gras-peanut butter mousse, celery granite, celery-raisin mostarda, crushed peanuts and nasturtium petals. The mousse is molded into Lego log shapes, then frozen to help solidify. Says Delee, “As a kid, those were two of the best things in the world: Legos and celery-covered in peanut butter!”

The Gage: With its tendency towards creamy richness, foie gras is one of those ingredients that easily plays with both savory and sweet. At The Gage, it serves to enhance a classic French dessert, as the St-Germain-poached foie gets layered between flaky puff pastry. Along with fresh farm strawberries and a dusting of matcha green tea, the dessert features a range of crunchy and creamy textures, along with sweet, herbal, buttery flavors.

Topolobampo: Tongue tacos with foie gras pastry cream may very well be the most offbeat interpretation of foie gras ever. It’s all going down at Topolobampo, where chef Zach Steen and line cook Meagan O’Connor double-teamed the idea as a means of enriching and sweetening the meaty dish. “There’s a lot happening on our tongue taco — we have tongue two ways, both seared and cured, a little heat from salsa huevona and some salty acidity from pickled cactus and fried capers,” explains Steen. “But the real crown jewel is the dollop of foie gras pastry cream we add.” The chefs blend orbs of seared foie with caramelized onion and a splash of brandy, then they mix in some heavy cream and put it back on the heat to thicken. “After a few minutes of intense whisking, we’re left with this boozy, rich, luxurious cream to balance out those other flavors,” Steen adds. “It’s sort of an intense process for just a small garnish, but it’s unforgettably awesome.”

Fulton Market Kitchen: Foie gras mind games are always a fun surprise. Such as foie gras mousse that perfectly resembles a Mandarin orange, like that at Fulton Market Kitchen. Taking the notion of foie gras mousse with fruit and toast to the next level, chef Chris Curren molds foie with Mandarin orange jelly into a perfectly rounded, citrus-shape dome. It’s served with toasted sourdough for convenient smearing and snacking.

Dusek’s Board & Beer: Foie gras, truffles and cheese come together for the ultimate bar snack at Dusek’s Board & Beer. The dish is a silky-smooth and impossibly rich fondue made with a mixture of Emmentaler cheese, foie, shaved black truffles and Madeira wine, at once sweet, creamy and funky. It’s all crowned with toasted bread crumbs for a bit of added crunch.

Trench: At Trench, foie gras plays a role in riffing on PB&J, giving the nostalgic staple a savory update and a gourmet upgrade. For his foie torchon, acclaimed chef Jared Wentworth serves up a savory peanut butter savarin cake, along with a brûlée of fig, cocoa and pickled strawberry.

Weekly Planner: Flight of Sake Air & Water Show

Celebrate accordingly with a flight of sake

A flight of drinks makes perfect sense for the Air & Water Show, taking place the weekend of August 19 and 20. So make your way to Joy District to celebrate accordingly with a flight of sake.

On both days, the River North bar and restaurant is featuring $20 sake flights, consisting of Tyku Silver, Tyku Black and Tyku Coconut. They’re even better when paired with Asian-inspired dishes and snacks by chef Matthew Wilde, like BBQ duck steamed buns, poached shrimp and cucumber salad and sake-poached salmon.

Half-Priced Wine at Acanto’s Weekend Brunch

Half-Priced Wine at Acanto’s Weekend Brunch

One surefire way to make brunch even better? Wine that’s 50% off. So much more fun than coffee! Each weekend for brunch, Acanto is upping the ante on its brunch program with half-priced bottles of wine. Considering Acanto has been named one of the top 100 wine lists in the world by World of Fine Wine, this is quite a big deal. The list, courtesy of sommelier Jon McDaniel, features voer 650 different wines, many of which come from smaller, independent growers. A few that McDaniel recommends for the half price deal include the 2016 Cantina del Taburno Coda di Volpe from Campania for $24 and the 1969 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico from Tuscany for $198. To match, chef Chirs Gawronski features a savorous food menu with the likes of blueberry-ricotta pancakes with Italian cider syrup, spinach frittatas with truffle ricotta, and rigatoni pasta with lamb ragu and Caciocavallo cheese. Brunch is served every Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Half Off Hours at Slurping Turtle

In other incredible bargain news, Slurping Turtle is celebrating summer with one of the best dining deals around: through August 30, the River North restaurant is featuring half off everything on the food menu and drink menu during select hours. It’s an apt opportunity to sample Slurping Turtle’s famous ramen dishes, maki and Japanese snacks, plus new dishes like chilled noodles with shredded tomago and seasonal vegetables, seafood shoyu ramen and ahi poke donburi featuring tartare-style ahi tuna marinated in sesame soy sauce.

Air & Water Show Ice Cream Cart at Mon Ami Gabi

One of the best (and coolest, literally) ways to celebrate the Air & Water Show this year is with ice cream at Mon Ami Gabi. On both August 19 and 20, the French restaurant in Lincoln Park, with great views of the aerial show, is setting up a signature ice cream cart at the corner of its patio. Select flavors are available for just $1 per scoop, by the cup or cone. Follow the restaurant on Facebook for more updates on flavors and the ice cream cart. It’ll be in action from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. both days.

Weekly Planner: Spiaggia Hosts Ferragosto

Spiaggia Hosts Ferragosto

One of the best, most lavish events of the summer is back in action August 15, as Spiaggia hosts its annual Ferragosto affair at Oak Street Beach. Spiaggia Hosts Ferragosto

From 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., Chicago’s venerable Italian mainstay celebrates the timeworn Italian holiday of Ferragosto, the beginning of the summer holiday, marked by a casual beach BBQ on Lake Michigan. The event will include a whole-roasted lamb and vegetables by chef Joe Flamm, plus gelato, rosé, beer, tequila, a DJ and communal picnic tables. Tickets for the event are $75 per person and can be purchased here.

Spiaggia Hosts Ferragosto

Spiaggia Hosts Ferragosto

New weekend hours means new menus and new opportunity to dine at one of Chicago’s most feverishly popular restaurants, as Monteverde rolls out weekend lunch. In addition to popular menu fixtures, the weekend offerings include some brunch-y items like crespelle ricotta with roasted peaches and housemade mixed nut granola; tigelle breakfast sandwiches with fried eggs, broccoli smear, fontina and dried cherry tomato; scrambled egg fonduta with zucchini and tomato bruschetta.

Another week, another new happy hour. But this one is one of the ritzier options, thanks to new weekday options from Steadfast. The glam restaurant inside the Kimpton Gray Hotel is now serving up happy hour Monday through Friday from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. During this hefty window, snack specials include avocado hummus, cured meat flatbreads, chilled seafood towers, sliders, crab cakes and mini  lobster rolls. To drink, all beer, wine and cocktails are discounted 20%.

Where to Celebrate National Oyster Day 2017

When it comes to beating the summer heat, you could go the usual ice cream route of course. But equally curative for the summer months are slurping down some fresh oysters. We may not border an ocean, but our restaurants are certainly filled with bounteous bivalves. With National Oyster Day coming on August 5, there’s never been a better time to indulge your nautical cravings. Here are some top-notch places to celebrate.

Oyster Day @ Shaw's

Oyster Day @ Shaw’s

Margeaux Brasserie: National Oyster Day is as good an excuse as any to visit brand-new Margeaux Brasserie. This French stunner inside the Waldorf Astoria Chicago is rolling out the red carpet for oyster fanatics on August 5, with $2 wood-fried oysters served with bacon, leek and Pernod creme, available during happy hour from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Oyster Day at GT Fish & Oyster

Oyster Day at GT Fish & Oyster

GT Fish & Oyster: One of the best places to eat oysters in Chicago is certainly one of the best places to celebrate the holiday on August 5, what with GT’s roster of pristine oysters on the half shell and fried oyster po’ boy sliders. Additionally, the restaurant is extending the holiday celebration throughout the month with its “Shuck like a Chef” class. Taking place August 23 at 6:00 p.m., the class is a great way for oyster-lovers to up their shucking game. Tickers are available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/shuck-like-a-chef-tickets-32627617081

Frontier: In honor of National Oyster Day, Frontier is celebrating all weekend long with festivities August 4-6. On August 4 from 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., the West Town restaurant will host an oyster and rosé patio soiree, featuring $1 oysters, $2 char-grilled oysters, $12 bacon-wrapped oysters, $5 glasses of rose, $5 glasses of frosé and more.

Cold Storage: Happy hour runs all day long on Oyster Day at Cold Storage, providing ample opportunity to partake in $1 oysters and $3 draft beers. Plus, for every 100th oyster shucked, the “golden oyster” will be served. Like in Willy Wonka with the golden ticket, basically. But for whoever gets the golden oyster, their check will be comped. The restaurant opens early for lunch on August 5, at 11:00 a.m., so you can start partying asap. Additionally, the restaurant will be pouring special Sea Pearl Martinis, an exclusive cocktail inspired by an oyster shooter that’s made with oyster-infused Ketel One, dry vermouth and orange bitters.

Vol. 39: Since oysters and martinis go together like peanut butter and jelly, you can’t do any better on Oyster Day than the impossibly chic Vol. 39 inside the Kimpton Gray Hotel. This throwback-y lounge, reminiscent of a mid-century cocktail haunt, has a special oyster and martini combo for the holiday this year: six oysters paired with a martini for $25.

Shaw’s Crab House: The reigning champ of seafood in Chicago, Shaw’s is an apt place to celebrate any nautical occasion. For Oyster Day, that means the restaurant is doling out half-priced oysters in the Oyster Bar from 11:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Dusek’s Board & Beer: For those who prefer their oysters with a little heat, Dusek’s Board & Beer is offering a special wood-roasted oyster and beer pairing for Oyster Day. Available both at brunch and dinner, the dish features wood-roasted Katama oysters Rockefeller with coriander persillade, which matches nicely with the adjoining Allagash White wheat beer. The pairing costs $15.

RM Champagne Salon: Last but certainly not least, this chic Parisian parlor is going big for the holiday, serving up a lavish combo of a dozen oysters and a bottle of JCB No. 21 Cremant de Bourgogne for $75.

Weekly Planner: Travelle’s Chef Collab

Travelle’s Chef Collab With Bouefhaus

Travelle's Chef Collab

Travelle’s Chef Collab

Some of Chicago’s most talented chefs come together for a collaboration dinner on July 27, as Ricardo Jarquin of Travelle Kitchen + Bar welcomes Boeufhaus’ Brian Ahern and Jamie Finnegan for the next round of the restaurant’s “Chef Collab” dinner series. Altogether, the chefs are joining forces for a family-style dinner that begins at 6:00 p.m. with a cocktail reception and meet-and-greet, where attendees get to mingle with the chefs. This will be followed by a five-course shareable dinner at communal tables in Travell’s wine cellar. Borrowing inspiration from both France and Germany, the menu features two dishes from each chef, finished with dessert by Travelle’s pastry chef Scott Green. The cost for the meal is $65 per person. Space is  limited, and reservations can be made by calling Travelle or visiting the restaurant’s website.  Travelle’s Chef Collab

South American Wine Tasting at III Forks Prime Steakhouse

Next up in the ongoing themed wine tasting sessions at III Forks Prime Steakhouse, the restaurant transports guests to South America for the evening on August 2. From 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., attendees get to participate in the steakhouse’s “Sommelier for a Day” event, wherein sommelier Anton Licko will guide patrons through a sampling of six South American wines, paired with hors d’oeuvres. Guests can vote on their favorite wine, to be featured for the rest of the month at III Forks. The cost to attend is $20 per person and reservations can be made by calling III Forks.

Travelle’s Chef Collab

 

Brunch at Ronero

In other weekend dining news, Ronero became the latest restaurant to start brunch service. Now available on Saturdays and Sundays, brunch here is far from typical, designed to conjure images and vibes of a Latin American party. They do so by filling the restaurant with three different brunch buffet stations, live music and entertainment. Between the three stations, which focus on breakfast items, crepes and waffles, and ceviches and tiraditos, guests can expect items like egg custard tarts, queso fresco biscuits with chorizo gravy and smashed purple potatoes with cumin and oregano. Made-to-order crepes and waffles are also available, with optional toppings like dulce de leche, sweet plantains and salsa criolla, while the ceviche station contains various rotating citrus-marinated fish and seafood, such as shrimp and coconut ceviche or tuna tiradito with aji amarillo pineapple jus. To drink, there’s a bar cart brimming with mimosa and Bloody Mary fixings, along with Rum Spritzers. The live music comes courtesy of Johnny Martinez, a local Latin American guitarist. Ronero is now open for brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., and the cost is $35 per person, plus beverages.

6 Reasons Why Sepia Is One of Chicago’s Most Important Restaurants

Sepia has entered a rare restaurant club in Chicago

In its 10th year in business, Sepia has entered a rare restaurant club in Chicago, among the uppermost echelons of destinations that are an indelible part of the city’s dining DNA. In line with other game-changers and industry-shapers like BlackbirdBOKANAHA and Topolobampo, Sepia is a timeless gem that somehow only gets better with age, much like the bottles outfitting its award-winning wine list. As the restaurant celebrates this important anniversary, and the owners spawn their highly anticipated Proxi next door, now is as good a time as any to examine the most meaningful aspects of Sepia and what makes it such a pivotal restaurant in Chicago.

Sepia Is One of Chicago's Most Important Restaurants

Sepia Is One of Chicago’s Most Important Restaurants

1. Creativity is the core of the kitchen. Sure, culinary creativity and ingenuity is all well and good, but at Sepia that innate originality extends much deeper. This is thanks to chef Andrew Zimmerman’s upbringing, which saw him initially following his childhood dream of pursuing a career as a musician in his 20’s. As is frequently the case for many naturally creative souls, Zimmerman clocked time in restaurants in New York City as a means of making money to support himself. A newfound love for cooking quickly re-inspired his career aspirations, leading him to attend the French Culinary Institute—and graduate at the top of his class. He moved to Chicago in 2003 to cook at the Park Hyatt, eventually working in acclaimed restaurants like MOD and del Tori before stepping in as chef at Sepia. That insatiable creativity has always served Zimmerman well, resulting in one of the most dynamic seasonal menus in the city, coupled with a flair for artistic plating and presentation.

2. Sepia felt like a classic from day one. Largely due to the restaurant’s location in a former print shop built in 1890, the vintage Art Nouveau space felt seasoned and special since its inception. Harkening to that bygone era, design elements in the restaurant are timeless and elegant, outfitted with historic Chicago memorabilia. Vintage stemware, meticulous millwork and custom floor tiling exhibit a razor-sharp attention to detail that lays the foundation for a memorable meal.

3. The owner is a consummate hospitality vet. When Emmenual Nony moved to Chicago in 2000, he already had one of the most impressive resumes under his belt of anyone in the hospitality business. Working with Hyatt International, his career saw the French native criss-cross Asia working at hotels and restaurants in Hong Kong, Seoul, Fukuoka and Tokyo before heading to Chicago to open the Park Hyatt and NoMI. After falling in love with Chicago, he knew he wanted to take his career to the next level by venturing on his own and becoming apart of the city’s ever-expanding food scene. In a way, Sepia marked the culmination of a colorful, impressive career for someone with an inborn knack for hospitality and service.

Sepia

Sepia

4. Arthur Hon curates one of Chicago’s finest wine lists. Routinely ranked among the best sommeliers not only in Chicago, but the country at large (just check out what Food & Wine had to say recently), Hon has set a new bar for wine service. He’s been with Sepia since opening, bringing his insatiable fascination with wine into the spotlight. A deep-rooted curiosity and eagerness to learn helped Hon honed his skills and refine his personal wine education. It’s something that piloted his burgeoning career, seeing him stat as server and wine captain at Sepia before graduating to beverage director. His encyclopedic knowledge of wine lends itself well to the restaurant’s 700-bottle list, leading the restaurant to rack up the accolades for its wine list over the years. All the while, Hon’s personable, friendly and engaging approach to customer service helps break down any intimidation and make wine as dynamic and fun as any other facet of the restaurant industry.

5. The restaurant has a natural penchant for evolution. The most recent example of this is the hiring of pastry chef Sarah Mispagel, a nice new addition to a storied restaurant. With local stints at esteemed spots like Nightwood and Giant, Mispagel brings a keen eye to the table for seasonality and vibrancy in terms of both presentation and flavor; something that fits in seamlessly with the savory menu. Her latest crop of confections includes a lustrous and light pavlova served with vanilla meringue, poppy seed cake, blood orange curd and grapefruit sorbet. Her black walnut cake with carrot cake ice cream and rum-soaked golden raisins shows that she’s also got a creative streak when it comes to reinventing classic desserts, in this case turning carrot cake utterly on its head.

6. The team took its time in expansion. Unlike some mile-a-minute restaurant groups that have raced their ways to empire statuses (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the Sepia crew took its time in carefully strategizing for its follow-up project next door. Although totally different in terms of cuisine and atmosphere, the underlying ethos of seasonality and gracious hospitality weaves a common thread that’s distinctly Sepia. And it’s a sentiment that will go down in Chicago restaurant history.

Best Bars for a Summer Night Cap in Chicago

Polish off a night on the town with a Summer Night Cap

Annex Bar for a Summer Night Cap

Annex Bar for a Summer Night Cap

One of the quintessential parts of summer in Chicago involves lingering for hours on end on patios at restaurants and bars, pretty much until city noise ordinances require closing outdoor spaces at 11 PM or 12 AM. But that doesn’t mean the night’s over; rather, plenty of snazzy indoor bars afford nice, unique settings in which to wind down properly (or keep the party going) with a night cap. Herewith, your handy guide to late-night drinking in Chicago, from upbeat and musical to luxurious cocktail dens.

For a Summer Night Cap Annex at GreenRiver: When it comes to proper night caps, cocktails at Annex at GreenRiver are like the grand finale at the end of a drawn-out fireworks show. With some of the craftiest and most elegant cocktails in the city, the cozy 18th-floor hideaway is a surefire way to end your night with a bang, especially since they’re open until 1 AM Thursday-Saturday. With unexpected cocktail ingredients like galangal, jasmine and carrots, there’s plenty to pour over here. Try the fragrant Disc Jockey (pictured), a complex creation blending floral, tropical and spicy flavors together with London Dry gin, sherry, curaçao, coconut, lemon, galangal and curry leaf.

Enolo Wine Café: Not only does this comfy wine bar have a belated happy hour that runs from 9-10 PM, but it’s generally a great place to wind down with a glass or two of rosé, that essential summer elixir. It’s open until midnight Thursday-Saturday, and considering its River North location, utterly surrounded by patios and rooftops, it’s conveniently located for night capping needs.

Arbella: For something a little more upbeat, Arbella combines quality, inventive cocktails with dance party vibes. Open until 2 AM on Thursday and Friday and until 3 AM on Saturday, there’s plenty of time to take advantage of its expansive drink list of 30 cocktails, while grooving to different weekend DJ sets. One fun option is the Chicago Fire Extinguisher (pictured), a pungent, robust tipple made with Scotch, Luxardo Abano amaro and smoked angostura bitters. If you’re really feeling saucy, check out the “Not F*ckin’ Around” menu, which features adventurous and lavish drinks like the Third Cousin, with barrel-aged Cognac, coffee liqueur, amaro and bitters.

Eight Bar: If you’re weekending right, you’ll be liquored up by midnight, which means the interactive and playful cocktails at Eight Bar will make for an extra fun finale. With drinks inspired by and named for Magic 8 Ball responses, it’s a real crowd-pleaser for the late-night set. Options include the Signs Point to Yes (pictured), a tart and refreshing combo of Absolut Elyx vodka, lime, ginger beer, housemade Fernet and mint. If you’re feeling indecisive, though, the bar is happy to provide an actual Magic 8 Ball to decide for you. Eight Bar is open until 2 AM nightly.

Lone Wolf: Considering the sheer amount of restaurants in the neighborhood, the West Loop is an area that necessitates a good nightcap. And when it comes time for such things, Lone Wolf is the saving grace. The dark, cavernous tavern features an array of hearty digestif-type cocktails, wine and beer, all perfect for washing down dinner and winding down for the evening. For summer, try the Frozen Zamboni, a chilly blend of vodka, Campari and lemon, or the tropical Phosphorescent Dream, featuring pisco, passion fruit and lime. The Lone Wolf Single-barrel Old Fashioned is another good, bracing option, made with house-selected Four Roses single-barrel bourbon, Demerara sugar and bitters.