Chicago's Hottest Winter Restaurant Openings
Not even frigid temps and howling winds can temper the constant surge of red-hot restaurant and bar openings in Chicago. So far this season, we've seen a slew of exciting newcomers join the local dining and drinking scene, from a multi-tiered cafe and market to a clandestine cocktail nook. Check out the hottest new openings so far this winter in Chicago:
3 Greens Market: What once was Dillman's, and after that Cocello, is now a multi-tiered new concept from Brendan Sodikoff's Hogsalt Hospitality. 3 Greens Market brings together a little bit of everything the Sodikoff empire is known and loved for, under one convenient (and impressively chic) roof. There's doughnuts from Doughnut Vault, burgers from Small Cheval, pastrami from dearly departed Dillman's, and one of the most expansive salad bars in town, large enough and diverse enough to make the Whole Foods salad bar look like child's play. There's also a putting green, which is always a welcome to addition to any business, and a cozy lounge area with movie screenings.
Forbidden Root: This long awaited brewpub finally made its debut in West Town, adding to Chicago's brewery scene in a bold new way. Forbidden Root is all about the botanical brews, featuring beers made with spices, herbs, and floral ingredients that bring the brewing process closer to an earthy, organic process. Expect beers made with atypical ingredients like elderflowers, marigolds, honeybush, wintergreen, and sandalwood. All beers are on tap at the central bar situated in the middle of the main dining room, housed in a former movie theater. The space retains much of that industrial air, thanks to exposed brick and dark wood accents throughout. The food menu is designed to be very beer-friendly, much of it utilizing the same or similar ingredients that go into the beers. Items include fried giardiniera with black garlic ranch, and a malted hanger steak with potato pancake.
Annex: The 18th floor of a Streeterville high-rise on Northwestern Memorial Hospital campus is, against all odds, one of the hottest cocktail destinations in Chicago. GreenRiver has been drawing food- and cocktail-lovers since last summer, and now along comes a new micro-cocktail bar on the same floor and from the same owners. It's called Annex, and the formula here is a lot more concise and intimate than at the contemporary restaurant down the hall. The abbreviated cocktail menu is quite elaborate and inspired, showcasing a variety of cocktails all driven by a particular theme that changes seasonally. For winter, all the drinks are inspired by the concept of spice, which makes sense for these chilly months. Expect precision and high-end mixology here, where the motif is much darker and more nook-like than GreenRiver.
Mad Social: As Randolph Street and Fulton Market continue to balloon and burst at the seams with restaurants and bars, it would only make sense that the tide would push out elsewhere in the West Loop. Case in point: Madison Street looks to become a new hotbed of prime restaurant real estate, fresh off the heels of last year's Monteverde and this year's Mad Social. The latter is the handiwork of Gina Stefani, a young restaurateur whose name you may recognize from that of the Chicago's famed Stefani Restaurant Group. Mad Social marks her first solo endeavor, and it looks to be quite a hit. Kinda like when Beyonce went solo from Destiny's Child. And we all know how that turned out. Mad Social is the dream neighborhood restaurant, perfectly inviting, unpretentious, lively, and fun, complete with approachable and upscale renditions of comfort foods like mac & cheese, burgers, chicken & waffles, and a killer Brussels sprouts salad. Don't overlook the cocktails either.
The Sixth: Speaking of cocktails, another standout bar to make its premiere this season was the long awaited The Sixth. Unlike anything else in Lincoln Square, The Sixth is an upscale, meticulous oasis of craft cocktails, presided over by esteemed mixologist Benjamin Schiller. Not only is the contemporary 50-seat space gorgeous with its pops of color, but the cocktails are as well, decorated and layered in such a way to really drop some jaws. To get an idea of the types of wild, engaging drinks you'll find here, check out the Trix-inspired "Silly Rabbit." A variation of a classic Southside cocktail, it's served in a carafe with a dropper bottle of housemade mint extract. It's up to the guest to pour the carafe and mint extract into a Collins glass with four different ice cubes inspired by Trix flavors: "Orangey Orange," "Lemony Yellow," "Raspberry Red," and "Grapeity Grape."
Bunny the Micro Bakery: One of the most whimsical bakeries to emerge on the local scene possibly ever, Bunny the Micro Bakery is the result of Iliana Regan, chef of revered tasting menu restaurant, Elizabeth. Here, the pint-sized bakery features a dizzying array of pastries, sweets, savories, and more, all in unique ways that are wholly unexpected and original. For instance, toast comes with an adorable mound of foie gras shaped like an owl. Housemade cereal gets splashed with nut milk. Tea is infused with mushrooms (not the illegal drug kind). Doughnuts get a heady whiskey glaze. Gougeres come filled with Wagyu beef. Sourdough gets baked with seaweed. And that's just the tip of the iceberg at this bakery wonderland.
Naoki Sushi: As if Intro could possibly get any better, they went ahead and rolled out a tiny sushi restaurant behind its kitchen. Led by and named for sushi chef Naoki Nakashima, this slick, clandestine spot in The Belden-Stratford in Lincoln Park features both contemporary and classic versions of sashimi, nigiri, maki, and plates. This stuff is seriously fresh, and beautifully presented, making it a serious contender for one of the coolest and best sushi restaurants in Chicago. Small plates include a tofu salad with quinoa and a truffle chawanmushi. Raw plates include hamachi sashimi with aji panca, salmon with smoked soy, mackerel with yuzu kosho, and fatty bluefin belly. To drink, Naoki has wine, beer, cocktails, and sakes, along with some interesting non-alcoholic cocktails like a guava-lemon spritz and something called "Happy Panda" made with fresh pineapple juice, coconut cream, and passion fruit.
- Matt Kirouac