First Taste: The Winchester Restaurant
Sometimes the simpler things in life are the greatest pleasures. The formula for The Winchester restaurant is refreshingly simple, lending Ukrainian Village a sun-splashed new cafe and restaurant with leisurely American dishes that won't shock you with innovation but rather impress you with precision and quality. The ethos at this casual nook is as simple as it gets: serve straightforward, responsibly sourced, and seasonal American fare that is fresh and of the utmost quality, in an atmosphere akin to a warm bed & breakfast. This is the type of neighborhood spot that every other neighborhood should be jealous of. From surprisingly sublime avocado toast to the marvelous motif, here's what you need to know about The Winchester:
First thing to know about The Winchester restaurant is that it differentiates itself from the pack of casual Chicago cafes simply by its offbeat location, situated at an intersection a few blocks away from the rest of the restaurant and retail action in Ukie Village and Wicker Park, surrounded primarily by quiet residences. A restaurant bold enough to open so obscurely must be pretty assured of its food quality and customers will deem it destination-worthy. Stepping into the restaurant, guests are immediately transported to a sunny cottage-like setting. The only thing that could make this place more magical and quaint would be a horde of whistling dwarves. Veer left through the entryway for a counter service setup, where patrons linger at the bar and/or fiddle with their laptops by the windows. The right side of the restaurant provides more traditional table service, albeit still supremely casual and easygoing. So casual in fact that I desperately wanted to be best friends with my friendly waitress. Call me? Smooth wood tables, an elongated high-top, plants, and plenty of white-washed walls fill the space, lending an air of leisure and relaxation, which sets just the right foundation for the meal to follow.
The beautiful thing about The Winchester restaurant is their aversion to pushing boundaries and their venerable commitment to refined simplicity. Several dishes sound so easy and obvious that one could handily recreate them at home. But don't, because I have no clue how it's even possible for the kitchen to coax such luscious flavor out of something as straightforward as mashed avocados. One of the simplest items on the cafe menu is also one of the tastiest, studded with niblets of grapefruit, chile slivers, and a few slices of tender grain bread alongside, making for a heavenly crostini-type snack altogether. The rest of the cafe and breakfast menus are available morning and afternoon, giving way to heartier dinner fare in the evening. I was smitten with my lunch spread, some of the freshest, most vibrant dishes I've shoveled into my mouth in recent memory. Along with the avocado, spring for the beet and Burrata crostini, a messy-but-worth-it arrangement of ethereal cheese, unctuous beets, and tender florets of marinated kale. The Brussels sprouts salad is a bit of a revelation as well, absolutely inundated with more flavors than Brussels sprouts are typically capable of clinging to. While many chefs opt to fry sprouts, a surefire win, The Winchester shaves them thin and tosses the toothsome greens with pungent Grana Padano, dill, chives, and fennel. For dessert, Bang Bang Pie Shop provides a rotating array of pies. To drink, there's cold-pressed juices, Seasons Soda, Rare Tea Cellar tea, coffee, chaider (cider + chai = happiness in a mug), kombucha, and other toasty, nourishing potables.
Simplicity has never tasted so profound.
- Matt Kirouac