Thursday, July 07, 2011

Longman & Eagle in Chicago

Farm to Midwest Table Dining in the Hood
2657 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago
Logan Square
PH: 773.276.7110
Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-3 a.m.; and Sun., 9 a.m.-2 a.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted


I've found that in visiting this city, some of its more innovative and interesting restaurants are found far from downtown. Last year I had a lovely dinner at this spot in a neighborhood known as Wicker Park. This time I traveled by the "El" to Logan Square to have dinner at Longman & Eagle, which Esquire magazine deemed one of the best new restaurants in America.

My co-workers (I was in town for a design conference) joined me as we went to Sunday dinner. The restaurant is at the end of the block in a non-descript strip, bordering a bunch of residential homes. Since it was a beautiful early summer day, a lot of people were eating in the patio area, which left us with a lot of tables inside to choose from. We were glad to just get seated since Longman & Eagle doesn't take reservations, and on most nights the wait can be long.

Because we all have a design background, we were all enthralled by the setting, a homey, rustic saloon-type restaurant with unique touches of artwork in the back. We kept looking at the ceiling above us, which looked like it was made from an array of reclaimed wood.

The menu from Chef Jared Wentworth was just as interesting and eclectic, with an emphasis on American fare using locally-sourced ingredients. Chef Wentworth also has a "head-to-tail" approach to his dishes so that meant items on the seasonal menu ranging from bone marrow to veal heart.

After a round of drinks, we jumped into our meals. The chef sent out an amuse bouche, which I thought was quaint in such a casual restaurant like this. The spoon-sized bite was a smoked salmon with a cream sauce and some kind of roe on top. I didn't remember the specifics, but it was savory and light.

One of my co-workers, Chen, started with a recommendation of our waitress. It was the Slagel Family Farms Meatballs ($6), served on top of creamy polenta, parsley pesto, and Fonduta cheese.

I had the Pastrami Cured Sweetbreads ($11), with Gruyere, pumpernickel, saurkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. Even though I had sweetbreads the night before, I wanted to see what pastrami-cured sweetbreads were like. My stack of sweetbreads turned out looking quite burnt, but they didn't taste that way. They were crispy but tender in the center, and had maybe a bit more salty flavor than sweetbreads I've had before. But it was the combination of contrasting flavors on the plate that made this dish a winner, from the saurkraut and Thousand Island smear on the side to the fluffy Gruyere puff on the side.

The girls in our group skipped a starter and went straight to the entrees. One ordered the Wild Alaskan Sockeye ($25) while another ordered the Roasted Miller Half Chicken ($18), which came on a pomme puree with Swiss chard and carmelized onion and pickled cherry and date jus. I tried a piece of the chicken because the waitress says it's one of the most tender roasted restaurant chicken she's ever seen, and it was. I don't know if maybe it's better than, let's say Zuni Cafe, but it was definitely a fresh and perfectly cook poultry.

For his entree, Chen actually ordered from the small plates section because he really wanted to try the Gulf Prawns and Grits ($13), which came with an organic egg and black pepper shrimp gravy. The prawns came whole and looking a bit blackened, but that was probably the black pepper gravy. Chen loved the prawns, and ate all of it, even sucking the heads.

I also went a bit off type and ordered from the daily vegetarian menu. I respect a place that goes through the trouble of creating a vegetarian menu each night. I was enticed by one item on the menu, which was a Spring Vegetable Risotto ($16) with asparagus, English peas, and morels.

What I loved about this dish was the intense flavor of the risotto. There was what seemed like a brown gravy encircling my plate of risotto, and that brown gravy (maybe it was the jus of the morel mushrooms) just added a rich and deep flavor to the overall dish, which was fresh and bright like spring.

We all rounded off our meals with dessert, and Longman & Eagle had an impressive list of unique creations. We each ordered a different dessert ($9 each) and tried a little of each. Here's what we ordered: Bittersweet "Manjari" chocolate tart with bourbon tapioca, gruyere donuts with whipped citrus goat cheese, an olive oil pound cake with poached rhubard and, finally, a banana and toffee English pudding and ginger and black pepper panna cotta.

As we tried a little bit of each, we enjoyed the sweet flavors and the interesting contrasting tastes reflected in our beautifully plated desserts. But I have to say I think I ordered the best dessert (well, everyone loved the donuts but you know I didn't have any), which was a light but rum-soaked English pudding that was more like a cake, and the little cup of panna cotta that was creamy and rich.

Dining at Longman & Eagle is a real adventure for both your eyes and your stomach. The funky but familiar vibe (all the servers were extremely friendly and helpful) makes you feel comfortable, but the innovative dishes from the kitchen (with the servers introducing each dish as they arrived) elevates the food to a fine-dining experience but without the pretension. I believe Longman & Eagle and Chef Wentworth will be known far beyond the Logan Square neighborhood.

Single guy rating: 4.5 stars (Refined but casual)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Longman & Eagle on Urbanspoon


David K. and Ann C.-K. said...

How great that you were able to get your co-workers to try something non-touristy and a bit out of the way? You failed to mention it, but it sounds like your sweetbreads dish was really a kind of deconstructed Reuben sandwich. Was it described like that?

Single Guy Ben said...

I actually haven't eaten a lot of Reubens in my life, so I didn't recognize the ingredients, but it does sound like something that would go in a sandwich. On the menu, it wasn't described as a deconstructed Reuben but sounds plausible because the chef apparently likes to reinterpret American classics.

Carolyn Jung said...

It's always fun to try places a little off the beaten path. That chicken looks fabulous, too. Always a test of a restaurant -- if they can elevate chicken from mundane to special. Looks like they passed with flying colors here.