Foodie Alert: Hearth Restaurant Shines

Hearth Restaurant in Evanston (1625 Hinman Avenue), located in The Homestead hotel in the space formerly occupied by Quince, is a dynamic and delicious addition to Evanston’s expanding dining scene.

The food is creative, locally sourced, and beautifully plated. I enjoyed an appetizer of seared Ahi tuna served with avocado purée, soy caramel, and candied cilantro. The tuna was delicious, fresh, and flavorful–the soy caramel added an unexpected kick that made me smile. I completed my dinner with a half order of earthy mushroom ravioli, plus colored cauliflower tossed with red quinoa and golden raisins. Everything was delicious.tuna

Dessert was tangy, homemade ginger sorbet, and the bill was presented with chocolate ganache candies. The staff is friendly and attentive, and encourages diners to enjoy their food without feeling rushed.

Hearth’s menu is also friendly toward vegetarian and gluten free diners with acceptable dishes discreetly marked on the menu. The menu changes seasonally — it will be exciting to see what the chef has in store come summer’s bounty. Reservations for dinner suggested by telephone (847-570-8400) or via Open Table. Come hungry.



Introducing Sketchbook Brewing Company

In the alley between Chicago Avenue and Hinman Avenue, at the space perpendicular to 825 Chicago Avenue, there lies a brewery, Sketchbook Brewing Company, newly opened on Friday, November 21, 2014. It’s just down the street to the trailblazing FEW Spirits, a local distillery open since June 2011. Neither business has a flashy street presence, their somewhat hidden aspect adding to the allure. One needs to know where to look to find them, and when you do, it is worth the trip.

Sketchbook describes itself as ‘Evanston’s community-supported nanobrewery’: initial funding for the brewery came from a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $25,000 from 250 friends, relatives and interested strangers. The two men bringing life to Sketchbook are Shawn Decker, a multimedia artist and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Cesar Marron, a manager of software engineering for Teradata and one of three winners in the 2013 Sam Adams’ Longshot American Homebrew Contest.

Cesar and Shawn have thousands of hours of homebrewing experience and own hundreds of cookbooks and brewing guides between them. Longtime members of the Evanston Homebrew Club, the location they chose for Sketchbook even shares a wall with Brew Camp on Chicago Avenue. The men are tinkerers and “do it yourself” kind of guys, and in fact did much of the construction work on the brewery themselves. Together they develop recipes and tweak the ingredients to develop unique tastes that they and customers love. I tasted both ciders, Sparta and Tarta Sparta (cider with cherries) and Primo beer and loved them; they were delicious.

Currently Cesar and Shawn brew a new batch of beer about twice a week and offer six taps for tastings and fills ofgrowlers (64 ounce glass containers) and howlers (32 ounce glass containers). Each batch takes about 20 days: one day to brew, about 12 days to ferment and about seven days to mature, carbonate and settle. Once the container is filled and sealed, it should remain carbonated for two or three days. Sketchbook beers and ciders are organic; even the spent grain after a fermentation is donated to others as chicken feed and compost.

Sketchbook Brewing Company beer and ciders are currently served in a few Evanston restaurants including Boltwood, Firehouse Grill and Prairie Moon, with more locations in the works. The brewery is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4 pm to 8 pm, Saturdays 12 noon to 6 pm and Sundays from 12 noon to 4 pm. Stop in to say hello, sample the beers and take some home. Just look for the orange door.

Visit the Custer Street Fair Today

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Just rolling along at the Custer Street Fair.

Soak up the sunshine, munch on fun snacks (more than 30 food vendors), take in the music and performances. Great people-watching. Street performers, face painters and balloon sculptors galore! Support over one hundred local businesses and peruse the wares of talented artists and craftspeople at the Custer Street Fair starting at the intersection of Main Street and Chicago Avenue.  All businesses open until 7PM tonight and some until 9PM.  An easy ride on the CTA direct to the Main Street stop on the Purple line.

And if you hear a weird flapping noise, keep your eyes peeled for this street performer. Totally different and very edgy.

Lucky Platter — Good Food With an Artsy Vibe

You notice the ceiling first, before the array of sculptures, photos and paintings covering the walls and ledges. Balls of tin foil affixed in 1-3-5-3-1 formation to the ceiling tiles.  Let your eye travel down to the colander lights, the strength of the metal offset by the jiggly crystals lining the circumference. Expand your view and take in the oilcloth covered tables and booth surfaces, a happy jumble of patterns and colors. Raise your gaze up and take in the walls. The soft, buttery-colored surface is purposefully decorated with black and white photographs, flea market paint-by-number paintings, circus posters, plates and original designs.

On the restaurant’s ledges and hanging from the ceiling rest a dozen metal sculptures designed by the regionally famous Ritch Branstrom. Branstrom is known for his sculptures in the Found Object Art style. Lucky Platter boasts several Branstrom fish and birds as well as the whimsical couple above the street-side entrance door. It’s a picnic scene: the man is playing a zither and he is entertaining the woman perched coquettishly on the other side of the picnic’s bounty. The words Lucky Platter are also done in the Branstrom style, every last piece constructed of found, recycled, rescued and gifted scrap metal.

By this time you remember you are hungry and look at the menu. Eric Singer, the owner, describes the kitchen’s output as “funkalicious post-Hippy eclectic world cuisine.” The menus, decorated in a fifty-ish decoupage style, foretell the creativity described therein. The food is delicious, fun and hearty, comfort food with a grown up twist. Breakfast lasts until 2 p.m. and dinner starts at 3 p.m. Kids are welcome here; actually, everyone is welcome here. Lucky Platter is the quintessential Evanstonian restaurant.

Lucky Platter (847-869-4064), located at 514 Main Street in Evanston, is a half a block east of the Chicago-Main Street intersection. Open every day from 7:30 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., Sunday until 8:00 p.m.

Food, Glorious Food at Now We’re Cookin’

The Hill Arts District in Evanston, just west of where Noyes Street and Green Bay Road intersect, houses unique lofts and live-work spaces. Now We’re Cookin’ resides on the site of a former dairy. Described as a multi-faceted culinary service center, it ranks as one Evanston’s best kept secrets and is home to the city’s only Food Business Incubator for start-up food businesses.

According to Nell Funk, Chef and Owner, Now We’re Cookin’ provides services in a few different realms: a shared kitchen space for caterers, chefs and others who need the size and capabilities of a commercial kitchen; a facility for monthly seminars on Introduction to Entrepreneurship and quarterly Food Business 101 courses, chef training and classes for non-chefs; a corporate meeting space for presentations and team building exercises; a private event space for parties and events; a high-end, chef’s kitchen for filming food-related events and cooking shows; and private consulting for food-related companies.

Nell’s favorite part of the business is running the Incubator. When a person or team is ready to launch a food business, they apply to join the Incubator; once enrolled, each pairs with an experienced mentor and is given access to a range of services and industry connections. One of the bonuses of the Incubator relationship is exposure to strategy sessions with business students through a special affiliation with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the Levy Entrepreneurial Institute and the School’s Food and Agribusiness Club.

I attended one of these presentations in February and watched teams of students–many with prior food experience–map out creative and innovative ideas to address specific issues. The burgeoning food business clients included Bakers Man Chicago (specialty baked cookies and baked goods), Prohibition Spice Co. (sausage spice blends and rubs) and D-ology (allergy-free and gluten-free baked goods). Each business appreciated the feedback and the students appreciated the chance to offer strategic advice to food entrepreneurs. Several team members expressed interest in continuing to work with ‘their’ business; maybe that new involvement is just what’s needed to help both parties meet their respective goals.

Preparing food is the most basic form of creativity. We all eat. What other art form involves all five of our senses?  If you are passionate about wanting to start your own food business, or just want to learn more to see if you have what it takes, it’s worth a call to Now We’re Cookin’. Located at 1601 Payne Street, Unit C, in Evanston or call 847-570-4140.

Summer Wandering

recyclingfair-600px_cropEvanston continues to charm.  Several examples:

  • On July 13 I attended the Recycling Fair at the Evanston Township High School.  Attended is really the wrong verb; I drove through it.  This is my first recycling fair and I have nothing to compare it to, but I am impressed with the great customer service provided by the workers and volunteers.  Everyone I interacted with was helpful and friendly.  (Remember, we are talking about folks approaching your car with a smile asking to take your trash.) The entire process was extremely organized and efficient.  Within five minutes I safely disposed of old electronic items, dropped of bags of old forms for shredding, and got rid of used batteries and light bulbs.  Kudos to everyone involved.
  • After visiting one of the recent street fairs, I stumbled upon a delightful breakfast and lunch restaurant, Delbe’s Corner at 1100 Davis Street.  The owners, Tasha and Sam, are French and love good, fresh food.  The pastries and coffee are delicious, the menu has an extensive range of steamed sandwiches, they offer free WiFi and play good music on the sound system. What sealed them in my heart though, was how kind they were to me and my puppies, Fig and Honey.  We had not been walking more than 15 minutes, but already I could see F&H were fading…I popped into Delbe’s Corner and asked if they could please give me a small paper cup of water for my doggies.  The guy in charge said, “Sure!” and brought out a bowl of water just for them.  They drank to their hearts’ content and Delbe’s made me a fan for life.
  • Further north at 1937 Central Street, I stopped in a fascinating retail store and gallery, George Ritzlin Maps & Prints.  This is one to savor: a goldmine of original antique maps from 1490 to 1890, rare books, natural history prints, botanicals and fashion plates. The owners, George and Mary Ritzlin, are dealers, teachers, writers and experts about cartography; Mary is especially interested in and has written extensively about pre-twentieth century women cartographers.  George and Mary are sought out regularly by private and institutional clients from around the world–and they are here, in our backyard!  If you appreciate old printed works as reference items and examples of art, you will enjoy any time spent at George Ritzlin Maps & Prints.

Some days I don’t get further than nearby blocks as I walk my dogs, admiring the stunning architecture, big porches and fanciful gardens that dot our streets.  And some days I wander, finding new places to explore and interesting people to meet. It’s the best combination of city sophistication and small-town charm.

Ask for Table 23 at Koi

One of Evanston’s popular Asian restaurants sponsors a clever way of promoting and donating money to worthy local charities.  Koi selects a different Evanston-based charity every month and tastefully promotes it to their on-site dining, carryout and delivery clientele, making it very easy for those audiences to donate $1 or more with their order.  Koi also promises to donate 1% of all edamame sold during the month to the charity, so be sure to order edamame when you order your lunch or dinner.

But the best and most generous contribution from Koi is Table 23.


Ask for Table 23 by name when you make your reservation; you can’t just walk in and request it.  It’s the best table in the restaurant and 20% of the sub-totaled bill, minus tax and gratuity, is donated to that month’s charity by the restaurant. Yup, you read that correctly–20%! The lucky beneficiary for June is Senior Connections, an organization near and dear to my heart.

Senior Connections recruits, trains and supports volunteers who visit and befriend homebound or isolated older people living in Evanston.  There are other organizations who provide meals, medical assistance and transportation to seniors, all wonderful and necessary services, but only Senior Connections provides companionship. Volunteers typically spend an hour a week visiting with their senior.  There is no cost to enroll and the resulting friendships benefit both the senior and the volunteer.

Kudos to Koi on initiating this great way to give back to the community!  And think about volunteering with Senior Connections. You can make a difference in someone’s life.

Koi is located at 624 Davis Street in Evanston and open for lunch Monday through Saturday and for dinner every day. Senior Connections (847-869-0682) is located at the Reba Place Ministry Center at 535 Custer Avenue in Evanston, one block west of the South Boulevard Purple Line stop.

Indulge Your Inner Wine Goddess

Any store with a sign proclaiming ‘Wine is cheaper than therapy’ gets my attention. The Wine Goddess is that store and it’s worthy of a visit.

The friendly locale established by proprietress Diana Hamann caters to everyone from the beginner to the oenophile.  Hamann demystifies wine with her knowledge and genuine enthusiasm–it’s something she loves and wants to spread that gospel to everyone who walks in her store.  She offers on-site classes on at least 30 different wine-related topics throughout the year; the store is also available for private wine tastings and similar events.

The Wine Goddess hosts weekly wine tastings on Fridays (5:00 to 8:00 PM) and Saturdays (2:00 to 5:00 PM) where $5 lets you try five different wines.  The store is bright and cheery…it’s a happy store with cozy furniture, a play area for kids, and bistro tables and chairs outside when the weather cooperates.  The retail array includes plenty of food and gift items that can be paired with wine, an entire section of local beers, spirits and Champagne, and of course wines from all over the world.

Celebrate anything, everything and nothing in particular with wine from The Wine Goddess.  Located at 702 Main Street in Evanston, a half a block west of the Main Street CTA and Metra stops.  Open every day except Mondays.

Find Found

al-fresco-restaurants-Found.jpgFoodies, locavores and aesthetes rejoice!  Indulge your senses at Found Kitchen and Social House, a novel new restaurant in downtown Evanston.  The food is delicious and all freshly prepared in interesting and unusual combinations.   The decor is creative and homey flea market chic: cozy chairs, settees and banquettes to sit on and plenty of eye-catching repurposed items to view.  The people-watching by the bar is terrific and the place is crowded for dinner by six every evening.

Found turns the traditional model of how a restaurant operates upside down.  A server presents the menu and explains the chef encourages all dishes are meant to be shared, which frees those at the table to try items slightly out of one’s comfort zone.  The portions are larger than tapas plates.  The server also alerts you that items arrive at the table as they come out of the kitchen as opposed to when the entire table’s course is ready.  The pace is leisurely yet constant; the service is attentive and plentiful.

The menu is fascinating with daily specials added to enhance the standard fare.  My parents and I shared a kale and Swiss chard salad tossed with nuts, seeds and cranberries and creamy polenta with almonds, mushrooms, blue cheese and a slow cooked farm egg.  Two very different dishes, both delicious.  The two grilled fish dishes we chose were fresh, healthful and filling.  Desserts were too good to pass up–we treated ourselves to three and passed each eagerly around the table.  Even the coffee served with dessert was satisfying in taste, aroma and temperature.

Found is a culinary pleasure.  We loved each of the dishes we ordered and felt comfortable dining in its ambience.  Go and please your palate: try Found soon.

Found holds court at 1631 Chicago Avenue close to the Northwestern campus.  Open every day except Monday; no reservations.









Within the past weeks I have enjoyed some great meals within walking distance of the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Main Street.

For hearty Greek-American fare, go no further than Cross-Rhodes.  The atmosphere is homey–think ‘Cheers’ without the bar–where the waitresses, cooks and other patrons know the regulars and greet them as such.  I saw young families, couples on dates, singletons and folks waiting for take-out.  I vouch for the Greek salad, spanakopita and fries.  Good food, atmosphere and value.  Cash only.

Another ‘obvious after the fact’ find for me was Kuni’s Japanese Restaurant.  Everything we tried was authentic, fresh, and delicious.  The next time I dine at Kuni’s I plan to sit at the bar to watch the master, Mr. Yuji Kunii, prepare the food.

There are many more restaurants and food stores to sample within the Evanston city limits. I welcome your recommendations. Happy eating!