Comfort marries chic at Leopold, left, where chef Jeffrey Hedin serves up Belgian food that includes smoked rabbit with mustard spaetzle, top, and pierogi.
socked with farmer’s cheese. And Hedin’s
zesty Slagel Farm cassoulet—a mixture of
rabbit confit, pork belly, moist German brat
and saucy cannellini beans—celebrates
Belgium’s host of French, German and Italian
immigrants while warming us with bracing
flavor that sticks to a happy gut.
The vegetarian among us loved his velvety,
pristine white-potato aligot, rich in Gouda
and cream, a mere dabble of which will thrill
those watching their weight. Meanwhile, a
slim smoked rabbit hindquarter was filled out
with ample mustard spaetzle flavored with
caramelized fennel and onion, plus a monks
prune glaze—adding sweetness, smoke and
spice to this zesty experience.
For dessert, our ticket over the border to the
land of Brel included a tantalizing chocolate
mousse with hazelnut praline. With warm
Belgian waffle paired with cooling vanilla
gelato, too, count on Leopold as a cool place
to cheer life on with warm sensations.
1904 W. North Ave.
We sent our Polish American friend
Leszek to LOKaL, and his first remark
was, “Lemme tell you. There are no bison
in Poland.” With their transformative take
on the cuisine of their homeland, Artur
“Art” Wnorowski and Gosia Pieniazek
not only have bizon with celery root
coleslaw on the menu, they allow us to
say hello (or dzien dobry) to a whole new
taste of Poland, a country boasting a
distinguished, gastronomic history. Count
on inspirations from France, Hungary,
Russia and Germany in a land where
bison really do roam.
Located in Chicago’s hip Wicker Park,
LOKaL feels like one sexy Polish jazz
club. There are abstract paintings
throughout, with classic Polish film clips
rolling on a flat-screen TV over the bar.
But the real improvisation lies in this
young Polish couple’s riff on the food of
their childhood. Forget about Grandma’s
boiled beet soup bombarded with sour
cream cannonballs. Borscht, LOKaL-style, is a ruby-red beet reduction, as
tempting as the lips of Polish actress Pola
Negri, infamous vamp and femme fatale.
And to keep the movie metaphor rolling,
crimini mushroom pierogi could be
Academy Award contenders in the
category, “Best New Interpretation of
a Foreign Pasta.” Meanwhile, LOKaL’s
Berkshire pork chop romances your taste
buds with date musztarda, then deepens
Say hello to a whole new taste of Polish
dining at LOKaL, where influences from
France, Hungary, Russia and Germany
lend a cosmopolitan air to such treats
as this bison with celery root coleslaw.
the seduction with parsnip purée. For final
credits, blueberries with housemade cookie
flakes, shaved chocolate, hazelnut mousse
and vanilla ice cream, a good entry into the
category, “Best Pairing of Chocolate with
Fruit and Nuts.”
Art and Gosia work as “virtual” chefs with
talented chef Ruben Torres, who honed
his culinary chops at Scylla with Stephanie
Izard, and who keeps the sensations
soaring over the top. Then again, food
cooked with cherry and bison grass vodka,
as well as splashes of Polish beer and
marvelous honey wine, make everything
happier, better, brighter and more
LOKaL offers a charming, tasty experience
played against the beat of an increasingly
corporatized food world, where the stakes
involve nothing more, or less, than the
future of all independent operators. Here’s
to adventure, courage and guts.
Vegetable offerings $6-$16; seafood $8-
$21; meat $10-$27
From oysters, $3 each, to cassoulet $19;
Ethel Hammer is a writer, lecturer and
cartoonist based in Chicago.