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Clever Rabbit

The Fiambre salad from Clever Rabbit. Photo by Eric Kleinberg 

The Green Party

by Maggie Hennessy | Men's Book Chicago magazine | August 21, 2017

Bad Hunter
This sunny West Loop spot led the plants-first charge in Chicago with a beautifully executed, mainly meatless menu and lighthearted vibe. “There’s this liberation that comes with removing that protein anchor that ties you down,” says chef Dan Snowden, “and, instead, approaching vegetables as an open book.” With a globe of flavors and cooking methods at his disposal, Snowden chars cucumbers a la plancha ($9) and tosses them with a white soy compound butter with yuzu and maple syrup. Fried eggplant gets livened up with green garlic nuoc cham and crisp marcona almonds ($11). Low-octane cocktails and wines mirror Bad Hunter’s aim to be a craveable option any night of the week. 802 W. Randolph St., 312.265.1745

Clever Rabbit
With any food movement comes boundary testing. At Clever Rabbit, the plant-forward boîte from the owners of The Betty and Sparrow, and chef Matt Lair (Bom Bolla), cleverly accessible veg- and seafood-based dishes include carrot dumplings with ginger and honey ($11) and scallop schnitzel with braised cabbage and anchovy ($16). But the dish that’s turning heads is a table-size crudité board packed with a changing spread of dressed produce, conservas and purees ($38). “It was something I pushed for,” Lair says, likening it to a veg version of an over-the-top seafood tower or a charcuterie board. “Some people are like, ‘You’re out of your mind charging that much for vegetables,’ but they change their minds once they try it.” 2015 W. Division St., 773.697.8711

Chef-owner Joe Frillman (Balena, Perennial Virant) doesn’t mind that his cozy Logan Square spot is often labeled as plant-focused, though he describes it this way: “If the Midwest was a region in Italy, this is what the food would look like.” That translates to a pastacentric menu with a playful Midwestern soul that leans heavily on this region’s bounty, including plenty from Frillman’s brother Tim’s farm. Sumptuous duck fat-cooked carrot rillettes spread silkily over chewy Publican Quality Bread ($11); lemon saison lends zing to potato pierogi with briny clams ($18); and chicken cracklins send handmade tajarin with asparagus and mint over the top ($15). “Ingredients change so fast,” says Frillman, “but that’s part of the fun.” 2523 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773.661.1671

Ella Elli
Sensing that Lakeview could stand to be a little veg-friendlier, this sexy newcomer from the 4 Star Restaurant Group (Crosby’s Kitchen, Tuco and Blondie) devoted a whole menu section to earthly delights. It not only reflects the greater plant-focused trend, but balances the menu’s more indulgent offerings. “Simple roasted fennel or a bright, in-season tomato can star just as equally as a flavorful piece of steak,” says Director of Culinary Operations Matt Eversman. His current favorite? The salt-roasted multicolored carrots with pickled celery, harissa and housemade za’atar, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette and finished with avocado and creme fraiche ($8). “It’s delicious, aesthetically gorgeous and just a great light dish.” 1349 W. Cornelia Ave., 773.935.3552

Publican Anker
A natural progression of older sibling The Publican, this buzzy Wicker Park brasserie has most evolved what was a growing presence of veggies on the original’s menu. “As the years went by, Publican’s veg menu kept getting larger and larger,” says Anker chef AJ Walker, who was The Publican’s longtime sous. “With Anker, it’s what we—and everyone else—like to eat right now.” Almost half of Anker’s menu comprises vegetable-forward plates with occasional protein added in. Think roasted-then-charred beets with green goddess dressing and jalapenos ($11), and English peas with bagna cauda, raclette and mushrooms ($14). Even meaty dishes get the vegetable treatment, as in the smoked mackerel with radish and tangy tzatziki ($17). 1576 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773.904.1121