2537 North Kedzie Boulevard
Ira Glass, the social anthropologist who hosts National Public Radio’s
This American Life, calls Lula Café “the kind of
restaurant everyone wants in the neighborhood.”
He’s so right. This slower-than-Slow gem of a restaurant masquerades
as a hip café in the still-gentrifying Logan Square neighborhood.
The young staff sports the requisite tattoos and eyebrow piercings, and
boasts about the sustainably raised meat and cinnamon-rind sheep’s-milk
One unsung highlight of Lula Café is that you enjoy the same premium
ingredients, many of them organic, that you’d find on the tables
of Blackbird, North Pond, and the Ritz-Carlton, but at prices that won’t
challenge the budget. Most dinner entrées hover just below $10,
with specials never over $22. Chefs/partners Amalea Tshilds and Jason
Hammel regularly shop Chicago’s Green City Market, buy organic bacon
and chicken from Gunthorp Farm, and give diners the option to upgrade
to organic eggs. During one visit Hammel was looking forward to experimenting
with fresh organic polenta, a cornmeal that’s not degerminated and
needs to be stored in the freezer to avoid fermentation.
Hammel and Tshilds use these well-raised ingredients as the basis for
a multi- ethnic odyssey of a menu, which visits Asia and circles the Mediterranean
from Spain all the way to North Africa. Options include a Moroccan chickpea
sweet potato tagine with couscous, punctuated by hot Saigon cinnamon and
drizzled with house-made harissa; a leek and goat cheese tart with watercress-anchovy
salad; or a Niman Ranch pork chop with fennel gratin, Future Fruit Farm’s
Luscious Pear sauce, and sage. Even straightforward sandwiches like organic
bacon, lettuce, and tomato or roast turkey with avocado get a flavor boost
from condiments like chile aioli and delicious bread from Red Hen.
Be sure to commit to dessert, even if you haven’t saved room. One
seasonal favorite is an almond spice cake served with dates on a languid
pool of guajillo chile chocolate ganache. Hammel says the ganache is inspired
by a classic Mexican mole, and it has a nice gentle kick at the finish—perfectly
balanced and not at all overpowering.
Breakfast is just as popular, particularly in warm weather when the outdoor
café is open. Brunch specials might include custard-stuffed brioche
French toast with Bing cherries and vanilla crème anglaise, or
Rushing Waters rainbow trout with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, sunny-side-up
eggs, and caper rémoulade.