Even before the hype of the Logan Square restaurant-scene escalated, Lula Cafe has been a secret neighborhood gem for over a decade. Adopting the “Farm-to-Table” concept early on in Chicago, Lula Cafe continues to serve up seasonal and creative food each week with hospitable charm.
With self taught chefs and a willingness to cook against categorization, the menu at Lula has grown into a kind of humble maturity, risky but grounded, a boheme bistro of the unclassifiable kind.
Although not a secret anymore, Lula’s weekly Farm Dinner, featuring new and experimental dishes, is available each Monday night for a $42 three course menu. Beginning in 2001 as a farm-to-table dinner, this Monday night event was started to test out new dishes that may eventually be added to the regular dinner menu. Because of its success, Farm Dinner has evolved into a weekly event to showcase the creativity of Lula Cafe’s chefs utilizing seasonal ingredients. To date, there have been 685 Monday Farm Dinners and more than 2,000 new dishes featured at Lula’s Farm dinners.
Paired with brews from Middle Brow Beer Co., this featured Farm Dinner was to benefit the CeaseFire and Pilot Light organizations in Chicago.
Smoked Walleye with artichoke, yogurt, pea shoots, chile; Paired with “Vitalogy,” a kolsch wheat ale
Yes, it’s a small portion, but don’t think that it’s not satisfying and filling. Underneath the sprigs of pea shoots, dill, and crispy artichoke, the yogurt covered walleye is light, yet sizable enough to share. Herbaceous and clean tasting flavors, this dish is a great meal-opener appetizer or perfect for those who are looking for a smaller and “greener” entrée.
Pork loin with a beer braised maitake, spring onion, and oyster; Paired with “Summer in Pain” IPA
For some, pork is not a protein that is usually first pick. However, combining the melt-in-your-mouth slices with velvety braised maitake mushrooms certainly makes this dish a worthy contender for a Farm Dinner favorite. The “Summer in Pain” IPA was an especially great pairing because the sweet hull melon and fizzy summer hops cut the richness and moist layers of the dish – making each sip a sweet finish to a saltier bite.
Death by Chocolate Sundae with chocolate sorbet, cocoa nib ice cream, smoked almond brittle, piloncillo hot fudge; Paired with Milk Eyed Mender, spiced imperial stout
To my surprise, the favorite course among all of the courses was this. Although served in a small vessel, this dish packed a punch of flavor and tasted exactly how it sounded, “dying” from chocolate goodness. As I am not a lover of chocolate, I was shocked to have licked my bowl clean – the dish was sweet and decadent, but not too rich. With the added components of crunchy almond brittle and the molasses-like piloncillo fudge, this dessert was the perfect combination of sweet and savory.
While the Farm Dinner is well-known and very popular among its patrons, three memorable dishes on Lula’s dinner menu (that were once Farm Dinner offerings) were the slow cooked short rib, baby carrots, and wild mushroom and beer bisque. By far, my favorite dish of the evening was hands down, the slow cooked short rib. Exploding with flavor and textures, this rustic dish has way more substance than the other offerings, but don’t worry, it is not disconcerting in any way. Containing colorful crispy red rice, bits of Calabrian chile, juicy short rib, and more, the abundance of flavor made my taste buds jump with joy-savoring every last bite.