Your day's organized by two simple forces: the El, which determines your traveling, and food, which is delicious and keeps you from dying. Align your wanderings with your chow, with Ari Bendersky's new column, Degus-EL-Station.
Degustation: a culinary term meaning "a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods."
El: that noisy rail jalopy that takes you to other hoods on the cheap.
NEXT STOP: Logan Square (Blue Line)
WHERE TO EAT: Lula Cafe, 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd., 773-489-9554.
TOTAL COST: Monday night farm dinner, $28. Otherwise breakfast, lunch and dinner entrees range from $10-$30.
Based on the crowd waiting for a table during weekend brunch, Lula Café is no hidden secret, although it is a gem. A brief walk across the square from the Blue Line, Lula is one of the best restaurants around—and it always surprises me when I encounter people who haven't heard of it. If you've never been, consider this your wake up call.
The basic concept behind the 10-year-old restaurant centers around fresh, local ingredients served in a relaxed, casual environment where local art hangs on the wall, Intelligentsia coffee is served and a well-crafted wine list accompanies the food. Chef/owner Jason Hammel and his wife, Amalea Tshilds, work tirelessly to deliver delicious, clean food, sourcing many ingredients from nearby farms, including Indiana's Gunthorp Farms, northern Illinois' organic Kinnikinnick Farm and Michigan's Klug Farm.
The seasonal menu includes favorites like the perfect BLT, the pasta "yiayia" (bucatini with cinnamon feta, garlic and brown butter) and the olive oil-marinated beet bruchetta (with arugula, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette), but oft-changing nightly specials surprise with items like Swan Creek Farm hanger steak with a Maine lobster aioli or pan seared scallops in a cherry brown butter vinaigrette.
Visit Mondays to snag a coveted spot at the weekly Farm Dinner, where a three-course prix-fixe menu is only $28 (not including drinks, tax or tip). A recent menu featured grilled Spanish mackerel with porcini mushrooms, slow-roasted Gunthorp Farm pork shoulder with pancetta and Brussels sprouts, and dark chocolate gianduja torte with salted caramel buttercream and Frangelico ice cream.
Lula does not take reservations (never has, and likely never will), but there is a full-bar in the front room with a few seats to cozy up while you wait.
Hammel and Tshilds recently opened a sister spot, Nightwood, in Pilsen, which does take reservations. So if you find yourself near 21st and Halsted, pop in for a bite. With either place, your taste buds will be pleased and you will definitely go back for seconds.
Ari Bendersky is a food, wine and lifestyle journalist and the creator of SomethingGlorious.com. He also contributes articles locally to Huffington Post, Time Out Chicago, Michigan Avenue, Concierge Preferred, Tasting Table and more. Follow him on twitter: twitter.com/aribendersky