Though its display case is stocked with artisan cheeses, housemade pastrami, and chicken salad, City Provisions is more than a deli. Cleetus Friedman, the friendly face behind the counter, oversees City Provisions's day-to-day operations, which include butchering meats in-house, assembling sandwiches, stocking shelves with groceries, and serving seasonal brunch and dinner. Local vendors supply the 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant with sustainably sourced ingredients that pour into its house-roasted meats and housemade dressings, mayos, and charcuterie. Aside from its storefront offerings, City Provisions is known for its catering services and farm dinner experiences, the latter of which snagged a "Best Of" award from CBS Chicago in 2011. Each prix fixe dinner journeys to a local farm, and often a local brewery, where patrons tour the facilities and enjoy cocktails, transportation, and a multi-course meal sourced directly from farm-to-table.
Before moving to Chicago, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh began their culinary careers in New York as a way to support themselves while they looked for work as actors. It wasn’t their acting that brought the duo to stardom, however. Against odds of 10,000 to 1, they sent a tape into the Food Network and, to their surprise, became the first-ever winners of the Next Food Network Star contest, landing their own show on the cable channel. That success enabled them to grow their catering business’s small café into a full-fledged restaurant serving up brunch, lunch, and dinner.
"Our focus is on what we love, which is mid-century food and the American culture of dining, and that kind of collective memory we have . . . taking those recipes and updating them for a modern palate," Steve says. For example, they top sweet potatoes with black-thyme-pepper marshmallows and create corn dogs with rabbit sausage in red-velvet butter. Steve says that they love creating conversation at their tables, especially as guests reminisce about memories evoked by dishes such as tuna noodle casserole and their Hearty mac ‘n’ cheese. "For Dan and I, that's a major part of the dining experience," he says. "If we can get their heads moving as well as their mouths, we feel pretty successful." Their efforts have paid off. "The duo is making magic by keeping it simple," said Phil Vettel in a review on WGN. "There's at least one wow ingredient on every plate. A simple burger is brightened with triple-cream cambozola cheese, sugar-cured bacon, and garlic aioli. Bacon-wrapped shrimp arrives on a pile of wonderful white cheddar grits . . . It's fun and delicious."
Dan heads the kitchen, while Steve forges many of the signature cocktails, aiming to discourage the intimidation that often surrounds craft cocktails. He and Dan even authored a book whose 200+ drink recipes include every cocktail made at Hearty, proving that everyone can make the drinks at home. Steve's even been known to chat up tables in hopes of introducing them to a new drink. "It's amazing, the amount of people who don't think they drink gin—so I have to force them," Steve says. "Once you have a gin that is different than that gin that you drank in the 1980s that was so harsh and juniper-heavy, once you're having one of these new American gins along with just simple fresh citrus and the other spirits… you understand what the fuss is about." He's also curated an exclusively American wine list with bottles from unexpected sources—including Dr. Frank's Salmon Run rkatsiteli from the Finger Lakes in New York, which he calls "floral and highly acidic . . . Everybody loves it."
Conn's Cafe & Catering Inc.'s professionally uniformed wait staff and executive chefs furnish festivities with a comprehensive menu of entrees, buffet packages, barbecue fare, and boxed lunches. The full-service company provides tables, chairs, linens, tableware, and invitations, offering customers reprieve from the stresses of party planning and additional time to perfect their chicken dance. A catering coordinator can counsel guests on décor, entertainment, and locations, and licensed and insured bartenders are available to distribute pours of champagne and spirits. In addition to the standard and seasonal menus, the caterers can also furnish Indian, Thai, Cajun, Middle Eastern and Mexican fare, as well as thematic decorations.
Inside HoneyBaked Ham, chefs uphold the same traditions that Harry J. Hoenselaar created more than 40 years ago. Back then, he chose individual hams, cured them in his secret marinade, and smoked them over hardwood chips before offsetting the earthy flavor with a crisp, sweet glaze. To this day, the staff makes the signature bone-in hams one at a time and glazes them in the shop.
To go with the meats, the kitchen whips up classic side dishes and desserts, such as the sweet-potato souffl?. For less formal feasting, party trays and packed lunch boxes fuel business meetings, backyard grad parties, and lengthy end-zone celebrations.
El Nuevo Mexicano Restaurant has remained a staple in Lakeview?s regularly changing restaurant scene for more than 25 years. Time Out Chicago credits this longevity to two things: ?Being consistent with the simple stuff and throwing in a few specials every now and then.? This includes enchiladas crema chipotle con pollo?free-range Amish chicken stuffed inside corn tortillas and simmered in a homemade creamy chipotle sauce?along with flaky beef empanadas, ceviche, and specialty margaritas made with fresh lime juice.
Villa Palermo's catering experts have graced banquet halls and dinner tables with Italian-American classics and Delta eats for more than 40 years. Many of the dishes are easy to share, including pizzas that quell cravings with more than 22 toppings and crust styles ranging from crispy thin to cheese-stuffed. Chefs stew mouthwatering tomato, Marsala wine, and butter sauces to coat noodles and chicken before trips to the table and blanket themselves for chilly walks home. Barbecue and buckets of fried seafood reflect a different culinary tradition, but boast the same reputation as hearty crowd-pleasers. The staff of event planners attends to non-edible details for up to 300 guests.