I’ve gone on before (ad nauseam, you might be muttering) about local, ethically produced food: now here is another big hit to put alongside the farmers’ market. Uncommon Ground is not just totally environmentally sound, it serves some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, has a brilliantly inventive range of drinks, and has live music most nights to entertain you after your meal is finished.
We booked a table in the music room. There are three rooms, from a large open one at the front with a bar, a little in between room (pictured below), and the squareish music room at the back. It’s all exposed brick, low lighting and local artists’ work on the walls.
One becomes a little cynical about the greenwashing of 21st century businesses, but Uncommon Ground actually means it. They handed us four menus between the two of us, not including the dessert menu. The food really is seasonal: lots of apples, squashes and mushrooms at the moment; and they tell you the provenance of everything, with the beers listed in food miles from the restaurant. There are twelve beers on tap and many more by the bottle, a whole album of wines that we didn’t even get into, and cocktails. I had a hayride: apple cider (read: juice, British people) rum, cinnamon and a lot of cloves.
And they take their environmentalism seriously more generally. The toilets are dual flush (which is the first time, I think, that I’ve seen that in Chicago); the hand driers are super-efficient; they refuse to stock bottled water at all, and will only bring you tap water if you actually want it. (Actually I’ve always loved the way that most American restaurants automatically bring you water – but here you only have to ask, they don’t over-ice it, which must lead to a lot of waste, and they’ll then keep your glass full all night.)
Then there was the food. Oh my God. Mine sounded sort of standard pubgrub/bistro food: chicken breast with goat’s cheese on top, butternut squash puree and crispy bacon – even if I almost didn’t order it because there were brussel sprouts too. But it was amazingly well executed: every part of it, even the sprouts, was plate-lickingly good, tasty and complex. M had a juicy, tender grilled pork loin with parmesan polenta, spinach, mushroom and an apple reduction. He gave me quite a small forkful to try and I immediately understood why: it’s possible that it was the best thing I have ever eaten. We had committed before we even booked the table to ordering puddings, because ever since moving to the land of the large portion size we have been missing out on what, for me, is one of the main reasons for going on living. M insisted on ordering two and that was, inevitably, an error. Our tiramisu (M thought outstanding; I thought good) and apple, pear and chocolate crisp (great) with goat’s cheese gelato (unbelievable) went unfinished. Not too sweet; not too boring; not too showy-off. Like the little bear’s porridge, but quite a lot more expensive, which is the only quibble I have with the place.
The night’s music was forty minute sets by Valentine Xavier and London. London had a nice line in rose tattoos and a great voice, and it’s good to see a girl playing a guitar in bare feet, but she really should stop delivering so many lines through clenched teeth. Valentine Xavier is a real discovery. Not so much self-deprecating as possessed of a destructive urge to tell you all his nastiest fantasies if they might get a laugh, he told us about the time he considered killing a hitchhiker, his belief that everyone in the room would willingly have sex with Jesus, and how propping up his girlfriend’s self-esteem eventually sent her running off to a ‘thoroughbred’ man. And he has the tunes to back it up, from the protest song to the jangly bluegrassesque to the jolly number about gay prostitution. Not forgetting a sub-Dylan way with a mouth organ. Check him out on MySpace.
We went to the Wrigleyville branch, a ten minute walk from Addison red line; there’s a new branch nearer us on Devon, but they don’t seem to have as much in the way of music yet. http://www.uncommonground.com/