Chicago's Top Culinary Couples
From neighborhood bakeries to high-end tasting menu restaurants, married couples make up a vital part of Chicago’s foodie framework. It’s a dynamic like no other, allowing spouses to maximize their unique rapport by joining forces and balancing their strengths. While one might cook in the kitchen, the other could oversee the dining room, or helm the wine list, or even come up with chemical solutions for housemade sodas and syrups. Here are 9 restaurants run by couples, and what makes each one so special.
Dos Urban Cantina
Logan Square’s Mexican stunner is courtesy of chefs Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart, a couple who met while working together at Topolobampo under Rick Bayless. Similar to their dynamic there, Enyart mans the savory fare at Dos Urban Cantina, while Jones Enyart is in charge of pastries and desserts, culling ideas and inspirations from all over Mexico.
After running a pie delivery business called Cheap Tart out of a shared kitchen space for years, Dinah Grossman and Parker Whiteway took the next big step in achieving their dreams by opening Spinning J in Humboldt Park. The beautiful, vintage-inspired bakery and soda fountain pays homage to dessert parlors of Americana yore, even repurposing equipment like a marble bar from a bygone Milwaukee pharmacy. Grossman puts her cooking and baking skills to good use here, crafting a menu of pies, cookies, quiche, English muffins, milkshakes and more. Meanwhile, her husband utilizes his background as a chemist helps in making botanicals, phosphates and sodas. In a way, Spinning J’s famed phosphates and gelato floats epitomize their relationship.
Dave and Megan Miller are among Chicago’s pastry elite. After quickly rising to local acclaim at Bang Bang Pie Shop, they decamped to open a place all their own. Baker Miller is perfectly representative of their joint talents and passions, all with the common ground of wholesome and locally sourced cooking. Dave’s strengths lend themselves to the savory side, which includes impossibly creamy grits, saucy biscuit sandwiches and grain bowls, while Megan continues to turn out some of the best pies, cookies, muffins and cinnamon rolls in the city.
One of the most beloved neighborhood-y spots in the restaurant-saturated West Loop, Vera is the handiwork of husband-wife duo Mark and Elizabeth Mendez. The pair worked together previously at Carnivale before leaving to work on their passion project. The result is a Spanish-accented wine bar that smartly combines their two strengths. Mark is in the kitchen, cooking up tapas and other inventive Mediterranean dishes, like crab-stuffed peppers and Moroccan spiced lamb chops. Up front, Elizabeth is the force behind Vera’s renowned wine program, which boasts ample Spanish wines by the glass and bottle. She’s also developed a penchant for sherry as well, with Vera becoming one of the go-to wine bars in the city for the fortified wine.
Chicago’s O.G. culinary couple is Tony and Cathy Mantuano, of Spiaggia fame. Notably, they’ve taken their camaraderie outside the restaurant by collaborating on cookbooks together. Cathy, after all, has extensive experience writing wine lists for restaurants. The Spiaggia Cookbook - Eleganza Italiana in Cucina and Wine Bar Food are both prime examples of their dynamic efforts, whereas Tony provides recipes and food inspiration and Cathy adds expertise in wine.
mk The Restaurant
Prominent power couple Michael and Lisa Kornick opened mk The Restaurant in 1998, and they’ve been at the forefront of Chicago’s multifaceted dining scene ever since. After having spent years clocking time in restaurants all over the country, the time was right for the couple to open something together, with the goal of having 100% control over the customer and employee experience. That dream lives on today, with Kornick overseeing mk’s proclaimed menus with along with chef Erick Williams, and Lisa being the familiar face managing operations outside the kitchen.
Smyth and The Loyalist
For John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, their companionship took them from Chicago to the East Coast and back again. The married couple worked together at legendary Charlie Trotter’s before opening Town Ship in rural Virginia, to much national fanfare. When they closed that restaurant, they wound up returning to Chicago with not one, but two restaurants. Smyth is their tasting menu spot in the West Loop, housed in a warm loft space with a massive open kitchen and dishes rich with offbeat flavor combinations, like crab and foie gras with scrambled miso, or lamb saddle with seaweed and black truffle. Coming full-circle, the restaurant also gets its name from Smyth County, Virginia, where they honed their culinary philosophies. Right below Smyth is The Loyalist, a more casual bar and restaurant with inventive a la carte plates like green curry-spiced chicken thighs and lemongrass sundaes with blueberries and molasses. At both restaurants, John tackles savory dishes and Karen does desserts.
Nestled down a West Loop side street so quiet and unassuming it almost looks like a wide alley, Oriole is a clandestine surprise that beckons guests into a casual, comfortable dining room for one of the best tasting menus in Chicago. Cara Sandoval is the first face you’ll see, greeting guests and walking them through the back of a freight elevator to access the industrial-style dining room. Her front-of-house expertise and service is echoed nicely by Noah Sandoval in the kitchen. As executive chef, he develops dynamic menus that change constantly, each dish intricate and immaculate both in terms of flavor and presentation. Thanks to the Sandovals shared philosophy, Oriole is the rare fine dining restaurant that genuinely feels as casually inviting as dining in someone’s home.