To start off this edition of Crossroads Diner: At the Intersection of Hospitality & Community, I wholly and unabashedly admit to huge bias towards the restaurant featured in the ensuing piece. I am fortunate to know and love a great deal of the staff there, and the only thing better than the food are the hugs.
“The Farm” Carrot Aguachile
Smyth, located on Ada St. off Lake in Chicago’s West Loop, is the upstairs counterpart to The Loyalist, a neighborhood-y, chill hangs kinda spot, dartboard and nightly specials included. The burger is - dare i say it -definitely better than Au Cheval’s (after three tries, and three strikes... fight me). Throw in a beer and a shot for a $16 Tuesday night special? I’m there with bells and a bib on, and you can bet I’m also ordering whatever iteration of foie gras eclair is on the menu.
Trout, Kelp & Autumn Greens
The neighborhood-focused Loyalist presents a harmonic, companion experience to the globally known, two Michelin star destination restaurant upstairs. I’m guessing the way Smyth & The Loyalist complement each other probably has something to do with espoused chef team Executive Chef John and Executive Pastry Chef Karen Shields and the way they’ve built a life, family, and several successful businesses by uniting their strengths and passions. “I think it makes a huge difference. They are a great couple who balance each other out very well. They apply that same world-view to their business,” Smyth General Manager, Christopher Gerber, says. “They both are empathetic and measured. There is a special "familial" aspect to the culture. Their daughters, Cecily and Lillie are here quite a bit. I think that us seeing how they interact with their children allows us to hold them in regard not only as chefs and owners but as parents, as people. It humanizes them, strangely as that sounds, and that resonates deeply with their employees.”
In the arena of Michelin starred restaurants and haute cuisine, it’s that human element that really makes a difference. Part of my bias is not just because my friends work there, but because I am happy to know that they enjoy working somewhere in the global spotlight that sets a great example of restaurant culture for the hospitality community. Smyth was nominated for the Jean Banchet 2020 Best Restaurant Service award, and Gerber believes ”it is because we push to contour our service and hospitality to each table. I think it's because we strive each day to carry out the vision that John & Karen put forth: to welcome guests into the restaurant as if they were guests in our own home and to treat them as such throughout their time with us. I think it is because while we can be technically proficient and knowledgeable that we are also warm and engaging.”
New potato, rosehip & white asparagus
Not to mention, staff gets to take field trips to experience and learn about The Farm, a 20-acre farm in Bourbonnais, Illinois. The Shields have cultivated a symbiotic relationship with owners Rebecca and Alan Papineau to produce Smyth & The Loyalist’s “natural pantry.” Gerber describes The Farm as “A much larger voice during the summer but also well into fall and winter. While there is a dialogue from Chef John & Karen with the farmers during the prior season as to what to plant, sometimes mother nature will chime in. For instance, purslane is considered a weed from a farmer's perspective but John asks that they send it as he likes to use it. As well, our potato crop was washed out this year but cucumbers and squash were incredibly abundant. These instances speak to both Smyth's menu and The Loyalist's, as well. It imbues itself into the culture in a few ways. I think the most important way is the appreciation of ingredients.” Gerber says what makes Smyth unique from other “farm-to-table” restaurants is that they are “able to be part of the process from seed to fruition.” There’s an intensely beautiful synchronicity to the approach that follows through to the way the flavors and textures work together on the plate. The effect is striking; I’ve had plenty of WTF moments from a single bite.
I can definitely appreciate the meaningful intentionality of Smyth’s seasonal menu. I’ve taken many a-drive to the farmlands surrounding Chicago for all kinds of produce pickin’; I know what kind of ineffable layer of flavor is imbued from that kind of interaction with food. The first bite of our first course, “The Farm” Carrot Aguachile, had that flavor, and from there, strap in for a spectacularly scenic and scrumptious ride.
Egg yolk & salted licorice with frozen yogurt meringue
The Chopping Block is also in sync with the seasons! Check out seasonal offerings like Wine Harvest Dinner or Winter Soups and Stews, or join us on our patio in Lincoln Square for a warm weather grilling class or party.