Best New Restaurants in Chicago 2014
It seems every day in Chicago brings a new restaurant opening, so naturally there was a lot of new food to eat and new drinks to drink in 2014. It's a dubious task to whittle down such a list to 10 top favorites when you've got such a world-class dining city like ours, but I accept the challenge. Herewith, my favorite new restaurants from the past year and what made them stand out from the fray, in no particular order:
A10: If ever there was a restaurant capable of pioneering a neighborhood's dining gentrification, it's this one. A10 has done for Hyde Park in under a year what Longman & Eagle did for Logan Square a few years back. At the cusp of one of the city's burgeoning dining destinations, A10 was a bold move for restaurateur Matthias Merges, and a move that paid off big time. The European inspired restaurant, boasting some of the most gorgeous design the 'hood has seen since its World's Fair days, traverses a continent with vigorous new takes on regional flavors like rabbit confit raviolo, Roman-style pizzas flecked with bacon and creme fraiche, monkfish spread with cured yolk and pumpernickel, veal sweetbreads saltimbocca, and plenty more. Each dish is illustrious and inspired, in perfect tandem with the glorious space. Brunch and cocktails are not to be missed either.
Beurrage: Pretzel croissants are just what Pilsen needs. This tiny-but-mighty bread and pastry shop popped up quietly along the central stretch of 18th Street this year, and it's modestly been humming along with some of the city's best baked goods. Instead of peddle a huge swath of random bakery items, Beurrage does a nice job honing in on and perfecting their strengths, which are pastries of the French variety. There's croissants, scones, quiche, butter-fried doughnuts, coconut cinnamon rolls, pie, and more. Each bite erupts with wholesome butter, flavors so precise and vibrant that they'll transport your mouth to a Parisian patisserie.
Bohemian House: One of the boldest restaurant openings of 2014 came in the form of an Eastern European inspired spot in River North, a neighborhood better known for bottle service than pierogi. With chef Jimmy Papadopoulos at the helm, he's helping steer River North into the dining destination it deserves to be, on par with Restaurant Row in the West Loop. His wholly unique concept features modern interpretations of Eastern European classics like incomparable beef pierogi, salt-roasted beet salad with caraway vinaigrette, knackwurst with sweet and sour cabbage, spaetzle flecked with smoked beef tongue, and pork schnitzel with dill potatoes. The ambience toes the middle line between hip and cozy, pleasing those in need of a hearty European experience as well as those hankering for a trendy downtown endeavor.
Celeste: Like the surprise Beyonce album that dropped out of nowhere late last year, Celeste premiered with no pre-opening hype and no pre-press whatsoever. The "surprise" bar and restaurant raised the bar on itself pretty high from the get-go, but Celeste managed to exceed daunting expectations through a mix of casual bar service and more formal dinner service. By divvying their space into a leisurely downstairs bar and a more upscale restaurant upstairs, Celeste perfectly nails the duality that evades too many restaurants that try to appease too many people all at once. The cocktails are masterful, especially the life-changing Golden Filigree bottled drink made with Cognac, rum, bourbon, and milk whey. Head upstairs for a full-fledged spree of farro and Burrata salad, pork shoulder confit, tempura squash blossoms, and crispy pickled cauliflower.
Green Street Smoked Meats: Brendan Sodikoff struck gold with his take on a casual Southern-style barbecue joint nestled down an alley in the West Loop. Green Street Smoked Meats captures the essence of fun, boisterous barnyard barbecues, featuring a sprawling warehouse-esque space, picnic table seating, a huge central bar, and cafeteria-style counter service where patrons can stock up on meltingly tender brisket, pulled pork, smoky chicken, Frito pie, macaroni salad, and all the essential Southern comforts that make barbecue the comfort food staple it is.
Henry's Swing Club: Another River North game-changer to emerge this past year is Henry's Swing Club, a bar that wisely traded expensive menu and pretense for casual cocktails and sliders. A refreshing departure from the sceney norm in the area, Henry's has fun with its space and its menus, starting with a pool table, quasi-sexual wallpaper, and even spin the bottle listed as a menu option for fun and kissing. The menu is the masterwork of Michael Rubel, who has finally found the perfect platform to showcase his incredible mixology skills. The drink menu is herculean, but rest assured you can't go wrong with Rubel's stamp of approval on it. Try a carbonated draft cocktail like the Pocket Watch with vodka, ginger, Campari, and lime, or a quenching bottled cocktail like the Vampiro with tequila, grapefruit, and housemade sangrita. There's also boilermakers, sparkling cocktails, stirred drinks, and more. The dining menu is filled with bar food dreams, like fried oysters, any slider imaginable, cheddar fries, tacos, pretzels, and something called "Fuck it -- here's a big tamale."
Parachute: Contemporary Korean-American food is probably not the first thing you'd expect to experience on Elston Avenue in Avondale. One of the most offbeat, unexpected surprises of 2014 is Parachute, a stunner of a restaurant helmed by husband-wife duo Beverly Kim and John Clark. Parachute is the ideal showcase for their particular, unique brand of modern Korean dishes infused with American sentiments. Try the baked potato bing bread, a sort of loaded baked potato in the form of doughy pull-apart bread; or the cumin-packed hand-torn noodles awash in heady lamb sofrito; or the bracing jars of house pickles. From simple to complex, Parachute excels across the board, made all the more memorable by the homey, casual ambience that makes diners feel as if they're lounging in someone's living room.
Polak Eatery: Speaking of surprising openings in surprising 'hoods, Polak Eatery took shape in Humboldt Park, bringing a cute pierogi destination to an area previously lacking in many dining options. The brick-and-mortar outpost of the Pierogi Wagon, Polak Eatery is exactly what a food truck-turned-storefront should be: casual, comfortable, sunny, and simple, with a concise menu of expertly crafted pierogi and a few pastries. Across the board — beef, sauerkraut, spinach — pierogies here are some of the best in town, especially when adorned with sour cream, caramelized onions, and crumbled bacon. Enjoy them while sitting in one of Chicago's cutest dining rooms, featuring wall art that looks straight out of a Disney fairy tale.
TETE Charcuterie: This one was a long time coming. But it was certainly worth the wait. TETE Charcuterie has the wherewithal to bring the West Loop's meatpacking days of yore back into the forefront in exciting new ways, as the restaurant handily toes the line between classic and contemporary. The space itself is thoughtful and meaty, featuring a glassed kitchen completely viewable from the dining room, so guests can get an eyeful of all the meaty happenings. Charcuterie hangs along an eastern wall, doubling as drool-worthy wall art and menu fodder. The menu lives up to the eye candy with regionally inspired sausages, charcuterie galore, and some of the best vegetable preparations happening in Chicago right now, just to debunk the assumption that it's all carnivorous here.
The Winchester: Tucked away on an unassuming intersection in East Village, The Winchester has quietly risen to become the definition of destination dining in Chicago. Fortunately for some, like me, the destination is only a few blocks away. Which is great, since I always want to be in close proximity to this all-day dream of a restaurant. It's the rare eatery that can do it all: breakfast, brunch, cafe service, lunch, dinner, and cocktails. It's the ideal go-to for neighborhood denizens in the area, especially considering the incredible food program that proves the deliciousness of wholesome simplicity. Think waffles, avocado toast, squash stir-fry, meatloaf, arancini, and plenty more. There's a lot to love about this humble haunt.
- Matt Kirouac