In Season: Restaurant Edition
By Morgan Lee I’ve spent this quarter working out recipes using in season produce--and hopefully you have too--but now it’s time to treat yourself and let someone else figure out the recipes! In the last few weeks, I have visited Farmhouse, Blind Faith Café and Boltwood - all restaurants known for their environmental focus. I know that these restaurants definitely have a reputation among Northwestern students for being on the pricier end. However, if you go for lunch they are fairly affordable. It may not be as cheap as the college staples like D&Ds or Chipotle, but the prices are comparable to most sit-down restaurants in Evanston.
Even if you aren’t persuaded to spend your precious college student money on these places after my reviews, at least consider choosing these restaurants as your choice for when the parents pay. Choosing restaurants like these tells the industry that we are interested in and committed to local, sustainable food options. All of these restaurants change their menus seasonally in order to work best with nature and choose the foods that are in season locally.
Anyway, first stop on my restaurant tour:
This farm-to-table restaurant sources produce and meat from local farms in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan as well as their own farm: Brown Dog.
At the corner of Church and Orrington, Farmhouse provides both a homey and hipster vibe. Rustic wooden doors and accents along with water served in old-fashioned milk jugs allow diners to feel as if they are sitting in an old farmhouse waiting for a grandmother to serve a hearty supper. At the same time, craft beers, meals served on wooden slabs, and menu words like kale and aioli are more indicative of the modern hipster food movement.
After staring at the menu for quite some time, I decided to split the Beer-battered Wisconsin cheese curds with a friend and order the Farmer’s Grilled Cheese for myself.
While the curds were tasty, I find that Farmhouse steered too far into the hipster side with this one. The very light batter resulted in extremely greasy bites that were not the Midwestern fried cheese curds I was used to. On the other hand, the grilled cheese and tomato soup found just the right balance between comfort food and adventure. The grilled cheese had a variety of cheese (Muenster and both white and yellow cheddars) oozing out the sides when it was brought to the table - enough variety to put it above your run-of-the-mill mother’s grilled cheese, but wasn’t different enough to lose its nostalgic taste. And what’s grilled cheese without some tomato soup to dip it in? Luckily, Farmhouse serves its grilled cheese with a side of Malted Tomato Soup. Again, the flavor was reminiscent of my childhood, but the caramelized onions on top and the bit of tang from the malt was just enough to please my more adult palate.
Farmhouse may have the reputation of “family weekend dinner,” but it is possible to grab a filling lunch for under $15 that helps to move our food system in the right direction. If nothing else, maybe Farmhouse could be your spot for a nice date.
Next Stop: Blind Faith Café
This all-vegetarian restaurant, located on Dempster street, is just a short 15-20 minute walk from South Campus or an easy ride on the CTA 201 bus. While a warm and friendly place, the restaurant is having a bit of an identity crisis. The booths and general set-up makes the dining area look like it could be any American brunch joint. However, cloth napkins and flowers on the table make seem like the café was trying to be a bit fancier. Regardless, the place garners a wide following as café-goers ranged from giggling babies to gray-haired couples.
As I talked about with a friend earlier in the week, being vegetarian often makes choices at a restaurant easier because the menu is cut in half. But, at Blind Faith, the whole menu as an option for vegetarians making choices so much harder. I finally decided on the Barbeque Seitan Sandwich from their brunch menu. As a Carolinian, BBQ is one of the things I miss the most both since moving North and since becoming a vegetarian. When the menu description said “Carolina slaw,” I was hopeful that maybe I could find the carolina mustard or vinegar BBQ I love so much. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The sandwich was huge and filled with great seitan (wheat protein) coated in a sweet, tangy BBQ sauce, but it just wasn’t the Carolina sauce I’m used to. The side of sweet potato fries I got with the sandwich weren’t heavily seasoned which was actually a bonus for me. I’m generally not a fan of sweet potato fries covered in sugar so this way I could add some salt or dunk them in ketchup.
In addition to being all-vegetarian and providing many vegan options, Blind Faith is also Green Restaurant Certified.
All in all, Blind Faith is definitely a bit of a splurge day - my meal cost about $15 (tip and all), but I did have enough to make a 2nd meal later in the week. Though maybe a bit pricey, it is the best place in Evanston (and certainly better than the dining halls) for a wide array of vegetarian options (as well as a bakery full of vegan treats).
This award-winning restaurant is possibly the one that a student is least likely to walk into. Not because it is much more expensive than either of the other two, but because the tastes are a bit more eclectic. If you consider yourself a “foodie” or are up for trying about anything, then this is the place for you.
Located beside Freshii on Davis, Boltwood is a place mostly filled with older couples and businesspeople, but once you walk through the curtain door, students can still feel at home with the friendly staff who are comfortable answering questions about the menu and the cute dried flowers as table centerpieces.
Their lunch menu contains interesting choices such as miso-squash soup, coconut rice and preserved lemons. I decided to play it somewhat safe with their appetizer bread and then pizza al taglio which changes flavors based on the day. On the day I went, their pizza was a white pizza with onions and herbs.
Looking at it, you would expect to be overpowered with onion flavor, but it was more subtle when paired with the white cheeses, rosemary and pepper that made up the rest of the pizza.
Additionally the bread, in my opinion, was exactly the way bread should be: still warm with a crisp crust and a soft doughy interior.
Surprisingly, Boltwood ended up being the cheapest meal of my journey (only $10). Eating vegetarian is what helped me out there - generally Boltwood’s veggie choices run a few dollars cheaper.
Please let me know if you have any more suggestions for sustainable restaurants in the Evanston area, I would love to try them out!
As always, if you have any questions about my recipes or ideas, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I started this column with the hope that other students would be willing to eat more sustainably sourced and plant-based foods once they saw that “it is so easy a college student can do it.” Here’s to our health and the planet’s!