My dad does a lot of work with professional chefs. I think my domestic situation inadvertently infused my personality with ‘foodieness,’ and my family is on a sort of ongoing deliciousness pilgrimage.
Chicago is a great food city. You can take a look at this year’s Michelin Guide if you don’t believe me. Graham Elliot has three restaurants and runs the Lollapalooza Chow Town. Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef and owner of The Girl and the Goat, is one of Graham’s neighbours in the West Loop area, also known as ‘Restaurant Row.’ And the ‘best restaurant in America,’ Chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea, can be found in the immoderate Lincoln Park area, near the Blue Man Group Briar Street Theatre, numerous indie hipster cafes, and trendy, rich young folk who thrift for style, not for budget.
Armed with these shiny, new preconceptions, you just might understand the following group of words a bit more effectively. As I said, my dad works with a lot of chefs. And, it logically follows that professional chefs know what to eat and where to eat it. Whenever my dad asked chefs where to eat in Chicago, the frequent answer was “Longman&Eagle. You gotta eat there.”
Longman&Eagle. Never heard of it. All I hear about is Graham Elliot’s progressively commercialistic ventures (and controversy within) and Grant Achatz. It’s always Grant Achatz, and there’s really nothing wrong with that except, unlike myself, the only people who can afford his restaurants are oil Sheikhs and God. But within the contemporary culinary trends, the Gastropub – like Girl and the Goat and Longman&Eagle – is quickly subverting the legendary Ferran Adria’s widespread molecular gastronomic influences in prixe fixe avante garde tasting menu style restaurants. And subverting prixe fixe itself.
After visiting Longman&Eagle’s website, I was instantly intrigued. My interest became a mild obsession, and when I discovered that Longman&Eagle was also an inn, ‘nestled within a bustling metropolitan neighbourhood,’ my wife Kaitlyn and I instantly knew where we were going to spend our one year anniversary.
We’ve been planning a trip to the city for our anniversary even before we were married. We initially wanted to try Girl and the Goat (and take cooking lessons at their new location across the street, ‘Little Goat’), but when we found out that Longman&Eagle has an inn and a Michelin star, our fickle sympathies quickly shifted to settle on the latter.
We were a bit disgruntled when we entered the restaurant. It was a lazy, rainy Tuesday afternoon and the place was scattered with individuals who might have been ex-biker gangsters turned hipster. Or perhaps ex-hipsters turned biker gangster. We were greeted by a woman who looked like Trinity from the Matrix Trilogy dressed in selections from Antropologie. Our room wasn’t ready, so we wandered around the Logan Square neighbourhood for a bit, then returned to check in.
When one transects the inn’s glass entrance, he or she is immediately greeted by a beautiful wood and iron staircase enfleshed with glass, steel, and exposed brick. We meandered on natural wood floors down a clean hallway, past a massive ‘artwork’ that proclaimed “Help Wanted – No Hippies,” and stopped in front of the number 13 painted rustically on a burgundy door.
In the hotel guidebook, the innkeepers recommend that no more than two individuals stay in each room, and that these two individuals must be on very intimate terms. The innkeepers are quite right. The room was indeed miniscule, but its stature was exactly what we were looking for. It was decorated fairly minimalistically; one wall presented a stained wood facade that served as the bed headboard. It flowed seamlessly into the mini-bar on the next wall, from which protruded a natural, rustic wood table. Apon this table sat a wonderful literary magazine, a set of earplugs that proclaimed in print, ‘Non-alcoholic sleep aid,’ two handmade tokens for free whiskey, and a fisher-price tape player accompanied by three Longman&Eagle Mix-Tapes. There was not a separate bathroom; the toilet was in the shower area and the sink was against the bed’s opposing wall. Netflix and iTunes were included in the room stay.
We took some photos, got dressed up for dinner. It was, after all, our one-year. Then we descended the stair, hurried, shivering in the Chicago wind, around the outside of the building because the inn and the restaurant had separate entrances, and entered the dining area. The place was full, but not packed yet since it was only 6:00pm. This would change within the half-hour; a line extended around the corner by 7:00. The rustic gastropub interior was transformed into an energetic sanctum for nightlife, bathed in the low light of candles and ceiling pieces that may have been salvaged from an old, condemned factory.
A very excited waitress handed us our menus. I immediately ordered a Brazillian Sweet Mate and our palates were greeted with an amuse bouche of apple puree, almond, and caviar. The apple was savory and had enough richness to complement the caviar without being overpowered.
We started with the Pretzel and Welsh Rarebit. The pretzel was homemade, crispy on the outside, soft and flaky on the inside, and coated with large flakes of salt. It paired perfectly with the cheesy Welsh Rarebit sauce; It was basically a classy, Michelin star version of the Pretzel and Cheese carnival classic.
We ordered two plates from the small plate menu: Crispy Slagel Farm Pigtail, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Apple, Sweet Potato, Chickpea Porridge, Cascade Hops for $12 and Nantucket Bay Scallops, Oxtail Cannelloni, Sunchoke Puree, Tempura Preserved Lemon, Black Truffle Vinaigrette for $18. Both dishes were wonderful, but the Pigtail made quite the impact.
All the usable meat had been extracted from the pig tail, stuffed into a natural casing, breaded, and deep fried. The chickpea, hops, and apple all had very distinct and predominant flavours on their own – sweet, tart, salty – and when brought together with the pigtail and cubes of sweet potato, Kaitlyn and I agreed that it was one of the most dynamic dishes we’ve ever tasted. No flavour dominated the others but rather blended with and supported the others perfectly.
The Scallops themselves were excellent. Bay scallops are considerably smaller than conventional scallops, sweeter, and astonishingly tender. The dish itself was not as cohesive as the Pigtail. When the scallop, cannelloni (shredded oxtail meat wrapped in a sheet of thin pasta) sauces, and lemon were consumed together, the flavours were nice albeit incoherent. One would be better suited to eat the scallops on their own whilst pairing the sauces with the cannelloni.
We ordered two desserts. The first was a Terrine of Heirloom Madagascan Chocolate Ganache, Salted Peanuts, Espresso, Translucent Caramel, Brown Butter Chestnut Financier, Chestnut Maple Coulis, Salted Peanut Brittle. The interesting and eloquent description raised great expectations for a mindblowing flavour overloard, but the dish did not live up to its name. The combination of peanut with espresso was the most interesting element of the dish. The Ganache was nothing particularly special, in fact, I am quite confident that I have made a more delicious ganache in my own kitchen. It wasn’t a terrible or ill-conceived dessert, but at a Michelin star restaurant I suppose I expected it to taste as good as it sounded. I do concede – it was indeed beautiful.
In my opinion, the star of the meal was the second dessert: Fried Apple Pie, Caramelised Cheddar, Rosemary, and Bacon Ice Cream. Your eyes hath not deceived you: verily, I say, Bacon Ice Cream. My mind was satisfactorily blown when I ate this dessert. All elements of the dish must be eaten together in equal parts. Otherwise, the strong rosemary flavour overpowers and creates a more savory flavour experience. The bacon ice cream was sweet but had a miraculous smokey flavour. When eaten with the apple pie, the flavours became immaculately balanced. My palate had never experienced anything like it and I am quite sure my brain was initially unable to process this new and exciting combination of synapses. I felt like I was eating the ethos of a log cabin in the middle of the woods. The experience was so foreign that I can describe it no other way.
We had a fitful night sleep. My head hit the pillow with lingering thoughts of bacon ice cream and mild, weary excitement for morning, because morning means breakfast…
We checked out, packed our car, and headed to the restaurant to order some Michelin star quality fast-breaking cuisine. Always intrigued by the sweet/salty paradigm, I ordered the Fried Chicken, Waffles, Sweet Potato & Pork Belly Hash, Maple Syrup. The waffle was, well, a waffle. The Sweet Potato & Pork Belly Hash was fantastic. But then again, how is Pork Belly ever NOT FANTASTIC? ‘Tis the meat of gods. I’ve been to the south and eaten soul food, but not even soul brothers could make fried chicken as soulful as that of Longman&Eagle. Rosemary was present again in the light and crispy batter that encased moist and flavourful meat. Pour some syrup on it all and BOOM: dynamic synthesis.
Kaitlyn ordered the Cinnamon Spiced Brioche French Toast, Citrus Butter, Maple Syrup, Praline Pecans. It was large and impossible to fully consume. Based on description alone, one might assume this dish is incredibly sweet and one dimensional. The opposite is true. The dish was light and carried lots of subtle, nuanced flavours, elegant yet rustic, and suitable for nearly any demographic.
I was not at all sad to leave Longman&Eagle at the outset of our culinary adventure. My excitement over how delicious everything tasted (and that we had celebrated our first anniversary!) quelled any sense of departure-related melancholy. I am not necessarily a chef, but I can definitely attest that Longman&Eagle is the place to eat in Chicago if you want Michelin quality food without the pretense of traditional, old school French Haute-Cuisine and the astronomical prices that accompany such eating venues.
Words by Cooper Flatoff
Images by Kaitlyn Newberry