Not much about 2020 is shaping up to be easy. While our bingo cards may not contain whatever’s in store for us next month, or even tomorrow, what is guaranteed is this—as long as warm weather persists, the earth will continue to grow plump, ruby-red tomatoes, gleaming ears of sweet corn, and perfumy peaches. And luckily, menus across the city are absolutely brimming with the stuff. At many of these restaurants, you can enjoy your meal at a table under the sun or, for as long as it's permitted, go with a seat indoors.
Read on for an all but foolproof prediction of restaurants that will serve you summer on a plate (while the season lasts).
Indoor dining at Sepia is back with strict safety measures in place (masks are required and reservations are limited to two hours), but a handful of street-side patio tables are also available to enjoy Andrew Zimmerman’s deliciously composed contemporary cuisine outside, for the first time, ever. The summer prix-fixe menu offers roasted corn agnolotti or shaved mortadella and plum as appetizers and Rohan duck breast with peach as a main course selection. Swooping umbrellas will shade you from the summer sun if you choose to dine outdoors, but regardless of where you’re seated, the food will be unmistakably rooted in the season.
The cheekily self-aware “overpriced tomato” on the menu at this Logan Square restaurant is summer in summary—slice and serve. A brilliantly garnet heirloom tomato is cut and layered atop Publican Quality Bread sourdough drenched in melted bone marrow with a smattering of balsamic vinegar for balance. Comforting pastas and classic chocolate chip cookies are also on the menu for a more traditional pick-me-up. Book a patio table for lunch or dinner or take home a selection of farm fresh produce, house made pantry goods, and imported Italian ingredients from the Daisies Market (open at 10am on business days).
The classic margherita at etta is topped with “tomato crudo,” which is the correct way to enjoy tomatoes on pizza this time of year. The sprawling restaurant in Wicker Park benefits from square footage in these times (cue well-spaced tables) and the prettily manicured rooftop patio is an oasis of outdoor space. Ingredients are sourced from local farms and many dishes are touched by the wood-fired oven, from the pizzas to hearth-smoked salmon atop a salad to the wood-fired branzino with capers, lemon, and parsley.
With just over 20 years in business, Lula Cafe is an anchor of Logan Square and we hope it continues to thrive in spite of and through this pandemic. The restaurant is still limiting service to take-out, but that doesn’t mean the farm-driven fare is anything less than gorgeous. Menus are updated via Instagram and dishes have included a chilled corn and summer apple soup, Grilled chicken with summer squash, and Mick Klug Farm peaches with almond cake and peach leaf cream.
Steps away from Magnificent Mile, this tavern pairs the best of comfort food with the best of the season, which translates to dishes like blue crab dip with heirloom tomatoes and black truffle butter or a pork chop accompanied by cardamom-peppercorn peaches and fresh corn grits. A seat on the patio, Close Quarters cocktail in hand (vodka, kiwi, white vermouth, and white wine), and splendid views of downtown Chicago will make you feel like you’re in the middle of it all—from a safe distance.
A handful of outdoor tables on North Damen Avenue can be your backdrop for a meal from Larry Feldmeier, the new executive chef of this Bucktown neighborhood staple. On the menu is a white gazpacho made with grapes, almond, and cucumber to start or roasted half chicken with summer vegetable giardiniera. Sweet corn ice cream or Basque cake topped with compressed strawberry from pastry chef Julia Fitting guarantees a bite of summer’s bounty at each course.
At The Warbler (which sits next door to sister restaurant, gather), summer’s peak produce is thoughtfully worked into an expansive, approachable menu. On chef Ken Carter’s daily menu, baby back ribs come slathered in blueberry barbecue sauce, spaghetti alla chitarra is loaded with blistered cherry tomatoes, and falafel are studded with sweet corn. Dedicated patio seating is a fine option on days with good weather and some tables are covered for a comfortable escape from the sun (and light rain).
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