There’s something cool brewing in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, a compact residential neighborhood northwest of downtown (sometimes lumped in with West Town.) The area’s culinary and cultural expansion of late has seen a tantalizing array of eateries open up.
On the hot strip that is West Chicago Avenue, come hungry to Split-Rail, helmed by Chef/Owner Zoe Schor. The big open dining room may feel more like a vintage boutique decorated with antique artworks, reclaimed furnishings, and shelves lined with actual books (remember those?), but its homey vibes lead the way to reimagined comfort foods that aren’t overly executed, just brilliantly prepared.
Schor’s classics are crafted with lasersharp attention to detail. The house specialty fried chicken, for example, starts with organic birds sourced from a sustainable, free-range farm. Each piece is battered in savory spices, fried up to flaky crispiness, then served with a choice of seven homemade sauces. (There are even gluten-free and vegan versions, and zingy house pickles.) Sides like loaded mashed potatoes and braised collard greens complement the entrées as much as the solid cocktail program.
In fact, the libations are so good, Schor and her business partner Michelle Szot are working to open the new bar Dorothy in the big cellar beneath Split-Rail. Look for it in late 2020, and meanwhile, support this LGBTQ-owned business by enjoying a tipple at the long bar upstairs. 2500 W. Chicago Ave. Tel: 773-697-4413. www.splitrailchicago.com
Inside the hip scene that is Freehand Chicago, a hotel/hostel in downtown’s River North area, Chef Ollie Walleck is concocting playful food and beverage menus at queer-friendly bar Broken Shaker. Walleck, a transgender chef originally from Cleveland, has a special talent for zesty flavor combos. His bar bites include light and larger morsels, like fries with fresh sage and rosemary, a “Fo’Boy” with seitan sausage and remoulade, and a honey-fried chicken sandwich with gochujang (a spicy Korean miso) and molasses pickle.
They’re pretty impressive tastes for a laid-back bar, but then Walleck’s cocktail program is just as creative, with seasonal or stirred-and-strong libations made more intriguing thanks to names like the Potato- Chip Old Fashioned and Guilty Feet Got No Rhythm (bonus if you can name that tune). Drop by for exotic elixirs and aromatic- herbed bites, and expect big things from this equality-minded chef. 19 E. Ohio St. Tel: 312-940-3699. www.freehandhotels.com/chicago/broken-shaker
It’s been nearly 100 years since Lou Mitchell’s sold its first coffee and donut, and this Illinois treasure remains irresistibly tempting. The diner opened in 1923 on the actual original street of “Mother Road” Route 66. It was instantly famous as the city’s first breakfast-allday restaurant.
And it’s still just as filling and delicious today, with fifth-generation family owners serving up Lou’s trademark eggs in skillets, plus all the best diner standards from BLTs and meatloaf, to fresh waffles and buttermilk biscuits. Quality ingredients were always on the menu, so patrons can rely on home-baked bread, premium bacon and sausage, fresh-cut fries, and surprisingly tasty house-stewed prunes, served as a complimentary diner-style amuse bouche. (Though most guests seem more excited by the free Milk Duds and donut holes.)
Some restaurants stand out for their new flavors or high concepts. Lou Mitchell’s stands out for being simply the best since its first skillet was served. 565 W. Jackson Blvd. Tel: 312-939-3111. www.loumitchells.com