Stop driving, don't buy plastic, turn off the lights and use less water. Oh, Earth Day. Sounds like a real party. But before you hole up on Sunday with your guilty conscience and the uncut version of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," celebrate Mother Nature by indulging in her bounty. These seven spots make saving the planet a whole lot more palatable.
Bleeding Heart Bakery
Imagine a Karl Marx vibe with frosting minus any trace of pesticide and you've stepped inside Bleeding Heart, the country's first certified organic bakery, located in Chicago's very own Ukrainian Village. Owner Michelle Garcia matches social responsibility with decadence by whipping up magical treats like a double-chocolate stout teacake ($3) and a s'mores brownie with housemade vegan marshmallows ($2). Or try savories like the bacon and tuna cheddar melt sandwich ($7.50 with a side) or a 2-pound loaf of beer bread ($8). (Decor notwithstanding, socialist pricing systems don't apply.)
Bistro Campagne / Crust
His son's battle against leukemia caused longtime chef Michael Altenberg to go organic at home. And once he switched, he couldn't help but treat his customers to the same. Thirteen years later, Altenberg owns Lincoln Square's Bistro Campagne, serving French fare made from organic Midwestern ingredients--or from organic distributor Goodness Greenness when local goods are unavailable. Try the roasted lamb from Wisconsin's Pinn Oaks Ridge Farm, served alongside an organic medley of roasted eggplant sauteed with shallots, garlic and San Marzo tomatoes ($23). For a truly green experience, order it with a side of organic English peas cooked in a sweet pea puree ($6). Look for Altenberg's second enterprise, Crust--set to become the first certified organic restaurant in Chicago and one of the first in the nation--to open in Wicker Park the first week of May. And Altenberg's son? He's doing just fine.
From earth to platter, Shawn McClain's Green Zebra employs the happiest little vegetables on the planet: They're raised organically, chosen carefully and transformed into edible works of art. Try the flavorful risotto made with turnips from Michigan's Mike Werp Farms resting alongside a proud pile of sauteed black trumpet mushrooms ($14), or the ravioli filled with sunchokes from Homegrown Wisconsin (a farmer's co-op) mingling with goat cheese, hazelnuts and toffee-like dates ($13).
Take a morning walk past Lakeview's Terragusto, and you'll likely see someone cranking out homemade organic pasta to use that evening with farm-fresh produce or cheese from Indiana's Trader's Point Creamery. Entrees (market price) might include trout from Wisconsin's all-natural Rushing Waters Fisheries, or a meat, which tends to be whatever chef-owner Theo Gilbert's supplier, Greg Gunthorp of Indiana's Gunthorp Farms, can catch in his pastures. Currently, that means braised duck salad with shaved fennel and sheep's milk cheese ($9.50), or Roman gnocchi blended with Swiss chard and baked with sage and Gorgonzola ($16). The unpretentious Lakeview spot is BYOB--and the $1 corkage fee helps to recycle the bottles you leave behind.
From the artwork to the indie rock--and certainly to the eclectic menu--Logan Square's Lula Cafe has cornered the market on hip. Using local and organic ingredients, owners Amalea Tshilds and Jason Hammel create what they call artisanal fare--home grown and homemade. Try the Gunthorp Farms roast chicken, served with red potatoes and sauteed spinach ($13), or for something more unconventional, order the spaghetti with chile salsa rossa, Gunthorp bacon and queso fresco ($10).
An eco-friendly steakhouse? Sounds about as likely as an eco-friendly Hummer, but near Earth Day, expect little green miracles. Saloon Steakhouse's Pete Manfredini uses Gunthorp Farms meat in his Creole sausage-stuffed pork with pommes anna (a sort of potato pie with the always welcome addition of bacon) ($24.95), and looks forward to local greens from Green City Market as soon as it opens on May 16. Saloon's to-go orders now come in biodegradable and recycled packaging material, which means no more guilty grimaces as you trash your containers.
Can a chain restaurant also serve locally grown food? The answer is yes, according to Dan McGowan, president of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises' Big Bowl Restaurants (with 7 locations across the Chicago area, Minnesota and Virginia). So if you visit their popular stir-fry bar, while not everything comes a local farm, the restaurant makes sure that at least a few are either locally grown or organic. Additionally, Big Bowl offers free range chicken and heirloom pork, something we'd like to see on more chain's menus. But environmental consciousness doesn't stop at the food: McGowan has sourced post-consumer recycled paper for the menus, and employees will soon be wearing shirts made from bamboo and silk rather than pesticide-intensive cotton.
[ Leah Fabel is a metromix special contributor. ] firstname.lastname@example.org