George Motz, Graham Elliot, Edible Chicago, Fete, Pastoral, & More
Pick Their Fave Chicago Small Batch Goods
Operating out there in the middle, in a city lacking some of the allure or charm of other food and drink centers, Chicago’s independent food and drink makers don’t always get the kind of attention they deserve. But don’t worry- these Midwestern kids are more than alright. As it turns out, while the world’s been fawning over the red-hot hipness of Brooklyn and ogling San Francisco’s boho charms, Chicago’s food and drink entrepreneurs have been hard at work- getting down to business and making great stuff happen.
New-minded collectives like the soon-to-launch Marz Community Brewing and progressive non-profits like the vertical farm / food biz incubator The Plant are helping to build a community around local small batch food and drink making. Annual indie-spirited events like the Good Food Festival & Conference and the Chicago edition of the Food Film Fest continue to grow, while newer pop-up events like Fete Chicago are having success by creating experiences that connect makers with enthusiastic, young urban buyers. Add reasonable production facilities, a solid network of farmers markets and specialty grocers, and an enviable location near great farms in no fewer than three states, and you have a damn fine place to live and work as an independent food and drink maker.
Our Chicago-based contributors- award winning bloggers, popular TV hosts, celebrity chefs, and busy execs- seem to share a prideful eagerness to help spread the word about the great things being produced in small batches on their home turf. Their trusted recommendations and thoughtful, personal notes helped us discover the goods and makers below. We’re excited to share them, so let’s get to it, shall we?
BEGYLE BREWING CO They’ve only been online publicly for 6 months in Chicago but have already amassed a sizable following. They are a CSB, a Community Supported Brewer, and operate like a CSA where, starting in July, a subscription brings you weekly growlers full of their macro craft brews. Right now they are brewing a fan-favorite, the 7% Crash Landed, a one-of-a-kind mashup between a pale ale and a wheat beer (a ‘pale-wheat if you will). Other beers are on the horizon like a 9% Double IPA. For the past 2 years at the Chicago Food Film Festival they have supplied our bars with specialty test brews and the crowd was blown away. It was only a matter of time until they made the leap to a fully-operational brewery.
TIM MAZUREK Founder, Lottie & Doof (Best Cooking Blog 2012, Saveur)
FLORIOLE BAKERY Perfect croissants, warm canelé, and beautiful fruit galettes are among the reasons I love Floriole. Add to those a beautiful space, friendly staff and their popular new pizza nights, and you have my vote for the best bakery in Chicago.
SEASONS SODA All-natural soda made with cold-pressed market fruit and no added sugar—this is what I’ve always dreamed soda could be! The melon is my favorite thing to sip on hot summer days in Chicago.
MELISSA YEN Owner, Jo Snow Syrups
PUFFS OF DOOM Artisan cream puffs in a million and one flavors. Rebecca Vanderkloot’s creative juices work overtime coming up with delicious flavor combinations for her 2 year old cream puff line. My fave is Coconut Lemongrass Sake on the sweet side and Chicken Chocolate Mole on the savory side. Her goal is to combine her Masters in Transpersonal Psychology and Culinary School training to create Sift- a Culinary Not-For-Profit that will work with individuals, families & groups with the process of cooking and eating together as a means for therapy & metaphor. Talk about a mission!
LUCILA’S ALFAJORES I became addicted to alfajores when I was in Buenos Aires for a mere four days! Crumbly shortbread cookies filled with dulce de leche, mmm. I can’t believe that a cookie that does not involve chocolate has me this obsessed! I was thrilled to find Lucila Giagrande making the most delicious alfajores right here in Chicago. A native of Buenos Aires, Lucila’s alfajores blow the ones I had in Argentina out of the water.
HUM BOTANICAL SPIRITS I am one for bold exotic flavors…and that’s exactly what this rhum based spirit created by Adam Seger is. Adam infuses pot still rhum with hibiscus, ginger, kaffir lime leaves & cardamom. I love that Adam is so adventurous in his flavor profile . This intense spirit mixes surprisingly well with other bold flavors or simply with soda water. I love turning people onto it.
NORTH SHORE DISTILLERY/ GIN #6 Sonja & Derek started North Shore Distillery in 2004 & were the first artisan distillery to open in Illinois. This is the gin that made me fall in love with gin. They call it a Modern Dry Gin and it is complex with notes of pink peppercorns, lavender and citrus. I will always have a place in my heart for the gin that opened up a whole new world of cocktails to imbibe. They also make limited edition releases full of those bold flavors I love such as their Mole Poblano in 2010 & their Silver Lining made with Metropolis Coffee.
CRUMB BREAD Anne makes these crunchy savory addictive treats called taralli. Sort of round knobs that are a cross between a pretzel and cracker & biscuit. They do not even compare to the pale tasteless rounds I have had before that identify themselves as taralli. Anne’s are shiny with olive oil & golden brown. I love the fennel ones best. I will buy a bag & try to resist eating the whole bag, but I always fail. Oh well. I can always try again tomorrow.
ANN FLOOD Co-Publisher/Editor, Edible Chicago
KATHERINE ANNE CONFECTIONS You’ll find hand crafted, locally sourced artisan truffles and caramels. Many are limited editions, and flavors such as orange rhubarb, blueberry gin, fig balsamic, goat cheese walnut and pomegranate, white pepper with hazelnut. Culinary art in a truffle. Caramels not to be missed are chocolate-dipped fleur de sel, bacon and rosemary sea salt. When the temps turn north, order a cup of hot chocolate with house made marshmallows that’s so outrageously think and rich it’s nearly impossible to finish a cup in one sitting.
KOVAL DISTILLERY Located in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, Koval is the first craft distillery within Chicago since Prohibition. Established in 2008, family owned and operated, Koval’s liqueurs are to be noted and enjoyed solo or as elixers in artisan cocktails. Selections, certified kosher and organic, include Jasmine, Orange Blossom, Ginger, Chrysanthemum honey, Rose Hip. Additional offerings include award winning whiskeys, vodka made from rye and specialty spirits like Pear Brandy. Weekly distillery tours are often a sell out.
MARK HAYES Wine & Beverage Director, Pastoral
STU’S KITCHEN / Bloody Mary Concentrate + Spicy Garlic Pickles
KOVAL DISTILLERY / Rye Vodka
Pastoral enjoys its Chicago mornings with this Chicago-fueled Bloody Mary!
Koval Distillery crafts Whiskey, Bourbon, Vodka and flavored liquors. We love the Vodka for its unique flavor and texture as a result of it being distilled from 100% Rye. Stu’s, based in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, makes exceptional spicy garlic pickles and a great briny Bloody Mary concentrate. Add tomato juice and you have a world class Bloody coming straight from the Windy City. Plus founder Stu Waters is a cheesemonger alum of Pastoral- even better!
RARE TEA CELLAR We only use Rare Tea Cellar teas- tea has a certain romantic aspect to it. It calms the soul, makes you feel whole…there’s so much history associated with it, it’s hard not to feel a connection to it.
MAMA’S NUTS Adrienne Lo, one half of the duo that opened Logan Square’s Fat Rice earlier this year, is behind this line of superlative brittles and roasted nuts. She’s a whiz at pinpointing flavor combinations that are as unusual as they are staggeringly addictive, like peanuts flavored with cane sugar, sweet bean paste, arbol chile and tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorn.
PUBLICAN QUALITY MEATS Chef Paul Kahan’s butcher shop, bakery and café reminds me of a Stefon skit from Saturday Night Live. This place has everything: cases packed with house-made charcuterie; a wall of the kitchen staff’s favorite pantry items from across the city (and country); freezers packed with stock, schmaltz and duck fat; gorgeously crusty artisan loaves; spot-on seasonal salads; and killer pimento cheese. But I have two favorites among the bunch: ‘nduja and bake-in-a-jar olive oil-chocolate cocotte. Chef Cosmo Goss makes his superb version of the soft Calabrian sausage with gochujang (Korean chile paste) instead of Italian chiles. Dana Cree, the talented pastry chef of PQM’s sister restaurant, Blackbird, is responsible for the cocotte, a molten dark-chocolate cake lent savory heft by fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
KOVAL DISTILLERY Back when white whiskey had about as much clout as Crystal Pepsi, this small organic distillery–Chicago’s first–started making its sophisticated, unusual clear spirits using millet, spelt, oat, wheat and rye (Midwest-grown, whenever possible). My first sip of its 100% wheat whiskey tasted of pure banana–and was revelatory. The husband-and-wife-owned business has since branched out to barrel-aging in American oak; spirits bathe in toasted barrels for a lighter-bodied result, or in heavily charred oak for that smooth, caramel-y aged-whiskey finish. It produces beautiful brandies and liqueurs, too, from ingredients like chrysanthemum, honey and sunchoke.
BANG BANG PIE SHOP Head to this charming Logan Square spot early for pillow-soft, piping-hot biscuits (they usually sell out by 2 pm). I love them slathered with a topping from the ever-rotating compound butter bar (summer brings sorghum, herb, and cherry-chai); others prefer to top them with a slice of ham from Indiana’s Smoking Goose, or Bang Bang’s crispy, cult-followed candied bacon.
RARE BIRD PRESERVES Elizabeth Madden is a jam guru. Her small-batch, hyper-seasonal preserves sell like wildfire (I savored the kumquat-tarragon-honey, one of her “Black Label” limited releases, as long as humanly possible). In winter, she makes creamy, silken citrus and fruit curds in flavors like Meyer lemon and blackberry-lime.
MARTHA BAYNE Writer/Editor & Founder, Soup & Bread
CAFÉ CHICAGO Cafe Chicago is a coffee co-op with a social justice bent. Launched by a couple of scruffy DIY coffee roasters (David Meyers and Michael McSherry) who had been (and still are) roasting and distributing their own fair-trade coffee around Chicago for years, it’s a partnership with Chicago’s Latino Union, which organizes to improve social and economic conditions for low-income immigrant workers. They roast and distribute delicious hand-roasted, fair-trade organic coffee — sourced from the La Fem women’s cooperative in Nicaragua – around Chicago, with proceeds going back to Latino Union’s community organizing work and programs.
CO-OP SAUCE Co-op Sauce started out in 2003 as a way to fund Co-op Image, an arts and entrepreneurship program artist and educator Mike Bancroft founded for Chicago teens, by making and selling hot sauce at Chicago farmer’s markets — but the hot sauce business was so successful it quickly became a legitimate business all its own. Now Co-op Sauce produces an array of outstanding hot sauces, bbq sauces, salsas, preserves and pasta sauces, all made from ingredients sourced from local farmers. (The mole and poblano are my faves.) Some of the proceeds are still directed back toward Co-op Image programs; in addition Bancroft and partner/baker Anne Kostrowski (who has her own business, Crumb Bread), run a cafe called Sauce and Bread Kitchen and a monthly underground supper club, and are basically just some of the best people in town.
CENTRAL PICKLING Central Pickling is new on the scene and while currently they only do one thing — classic garlic-dill pickles — they do it really well. Hand-made from organic cucumbers grown by farmers in Illinois and Indiana, the pickles are fresh, crunchy, tart but not too aggressive, and addictively good.
APRIL FRANCIS Founder, Dose Market
LETHERBEE DISTILLERY / R. Franklin’s Original Recipe Malort
Gin is clearly having a resurgence, and Letherbee’s entry in this space continues to be a most exciting happening on the very busy Chicago spirit scene. With Letherbee’s intrepid entry into the Malort category — brewed for (and named after), the Violet Hour’s master mixologist — the R. Franklin’s Original Recipe Malort is the ultimate Summer 2013 add to your home bar.
KATHERINE ANNE CONFECTIONS / Banana Cream Pie Truffle
We love classics, and this little truffle has come back from the Katherine Anne archive for a reemergence just this Spring. For white-chocolate lovers, it’s the richest, most delicious banana cream pie experience on the planet.
Tiny Letherbee Distillery (think Manhattan studio apartment) churns out some of the most delicious and innovative gins anywhere. Crawling distance from Koval and Rare Tea Cellar in the north Ravenswood ‘Craft Corridor’ Letherbee’s tiny custom copper pot still is the soul of the operation. With a process of 1st macerating the botanicals ‘back bar style’ then distilling the infusion, there is more time of the spirit to be in contact with the roots, citrus and spices to pull out a deeper level of essential oils and flavors. For fun, Master Distiller/Owner Brent Engel makes an uber limited seasonal expression of gin with added botanicals of the season.
As a bonus, when I visit Brent at the distillery, it’s a 20′ walk across the hallway to even smaller Spiteful Brewery, run by Brad Shaffer and Jason Klein- look for their hop forward brews around town.
DANA BENIGNO Executive Director, Green City Market
GRASS IS GREENER They make all sorts of delicious pickled vegetables from produce on their farm. I love the spicy pickled cauliflower and classic pickles. In the summer I usually have a relish tray for dinner parties filled with an assortment of pickled vegetables including cucumbers, cauliflower and pickled beats. Perfect for summer grilling!
CHICAGO INDOOR GARDENS Sprouted chickpea hummus- healthy and delicious – spread on a cracker and top with onion sprouts.
TOMATO MOUNTAIN Tomato Mountain makes a delicious line of tomato sauce products from salsa to bloody mary mix from their large tomato crop.
HANNAH STANLEY Host, FlavorHD on WGN Radio
WILDFIRE HONEY They say their 100% pure wildflower honey is “stung with chile”- we say it’s fab! With the natural sweetness of honey and the bold, spicy kick of Thai chiles, it’s great for marinating, dipping, and inclusion in recipes. They sell it right from their Toasty Cheese food truck, too!