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Organic options in Chicago

Here are a few places in Chicago that serve organic food:

Crust (2056 W. Division, 773-235-5511) – This is Chicago’s first certified organic restaurant (pictured at left) and features sandwiches, salads, and “flatbreads”, which are more like ultra-thin crust pizzas similar to the wood-fired Neapolitan style, and definitely the highlight of the menu. While I enjoyed traditional pizza toppings such as Italian sausage and pepperoni, the real standouts are bechamel-based pizzas like the clambake (clams, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and wild herbs) and “Mexicali blues” (wood-fired shrimp, Chihuahua cheese, pica de gallo, peppers, and cilantro). A side of crushed hot red pepper and dried oregano leaves (as opposed to your standard powdery dry oregano) adds a nice touch to any pizza.

Among the veggies, the sun salad is my favorite; greens, sugar snap peas, carrots, and cucumber are dressed with a tangy miso-plum vinaigrette and topped with a smattering of seaweed salad and a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. Tippling options include organic beer, wine, even vodka, which is used as the base of delicious infusions such as Meyer lemon and lemongrass, and vanilla bean and cacoa nib.

Bleeding Heart Bakery (2018 W. Chicago, 773-278-3638) – This is the first certified organic retail bakery in the U.S. It’s unique in that all of their ingredients are 100% certified organic; the other establishments mentioned here aren’t at that stage. Bleeding Heart is also an adorable café that serves coffee, tea, and savory tarts and croissants along with other goodies you’d expect from a bakery. I’ve been slowly working my way through the menu and would especially recommend the satisfyingly crunchy orange polenta cookies. And I can’t find a single thing to complain about their vegan items. Indeed, a couple of their vegan pastries are — gasp! — my favorites even among the many deliciously buttery, egg-laden choices. The blueberry buckle tea cake is moist without the weird stickiness prevalent in many vegan pastries and kissed with a sweet, cinnamony crumble; the pumpkin scone is delicately spiced and has just a hint of sweetness, perfect on its own or with cherry preserves and a blatantly non-vegan slather of Devon cream. (They don’t offer that — I do it at home myself.) The bakery provides catering services and creates beautiful wedding cakes in addition to all the tasty things in the store. You can also take home a non-edible piece of the love with a clever pink “Never Mind the Bollocks”-inspired t-shirt. Love it!

Hannah’s Bretzel (180 W. Washington, 312-621-1111 and 233 N. Michigan, 312-238-9636) – This popular Loop lunch spot is the city’s first organic carry-out eatery and is well-known for its selection of mouthwatering sandwiches built on traditional or whole grain bretzel (i.e., pretzel) bread with mainly European meats and cheeses like prosciutto, Madrange ham, Gruyère, and Camembert and clean, refreshing toppings such as watercress and cucumbers. I personally find their sandwiches to be on the expensive side, even by organic standards, so I opt for the addictive traditional Swabian bretzels. These are nothing like the nasty Auntie Anne’s grease bombs at the mall — Hannah’s bretzels are just as big, but light and chewy with a nice crispy center where the bretzel shape is thinner. Thankfully, they’re available by the half-dozen so you can easily satsify your bretzel fix. There are also a number of organic teas and a huge selection of high-end (mostly non-organic) chocolate bars.

vosges peanut butter bonbonVosges Haut-Chocolat (951 W. Armitage, 773-296-9866, 520 N. Michigan, 2nd floor, 312-644-9450) – Vosges was recently approved as an organic manufacturing facility and although not all of their confections are organic, they now use organic sugar, butter, cream and nuts. Their peanut butter bonbons (pictured at left) are incredibly decadent and make Reese’s peanut butter cups taste like sawdust — this coming from a big Reese’s fan. These delicious beauties are made of rich milk chocolate and organic peanut butter finished with a touch of organic pink Himalayan salt and organic Fleur de Sel. I never thought the combination of peanut butter and chocolate could be improved upon, but that little sprinkle of crunchy saltiness takes it over the top. If there’s anything that you absolutely must try from this whole post, the peanut butter bonbon is it. Actually, you must try Vosges’ exquisite collection in its entirety, but that’s a subject for another day.

4 Comments

  1. Cat wrote:

    I’ll never forget the first time I saw “Chihuahua cheese” on a menu. To this day, I imagine someone milking a chihuahua. ;)

    Monday, September 10, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  2. Joan wrote:

    hey you gave me a get well card with that same chair (see picture) on it! :D

    Monday, September 17, 2007 at 12:57 am | Permalink
  3. Noh, that is a different chair :D

    Monday, September 17, 2007 at 10:26 pm | Permalink
  4. NYC wrote:

    I am totally in love with Vosges’s Naga chocolate, a combo of curry, coconut, & deep milk chocolate. mmmm…

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

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