ROBERT ST. JOHN: Milestones, deadlines and dining in Chicago

By Robert St. John

This column turns 12-years-old this month. For almost a dozen years I have written approximately 750 words each week, never missing a week. That’s almost half a million words (and almost that many pounds gained and lost, as my weight tends to fluctuate with the seasons and the travel schedule).
It’s the same routine each week. I get up early on Monday morning and start writing until I reach my 10 a.m. deadline. Then I continue to write way past my deadline. Occasionally, the timing of the Monday deadline comes back to bite me.
Last week, while in the middle of a caffeine-fueled, marathon journey through the Chicago restaurant scene, I stated that Girl & the Goat was my new favorite restaurant in Chicago. That was a true statement.
It was written in my hotel room early Monday morning on the last day of the three-day excursion.
The problem with deadlines in the middle of a trip is that when a writer makes a definitive statement such as “Girl & the Goat is my new favorite restaurant in Chicago,” he better have completed his trip.
changed my mind
Monday evening I had reservations at Longman & Eagle in the Logan Square neighborhood northwest of downtown. Longman & Eagle is – by a long shot – my favorite restaurant in Chicago, and possibly one of my top 10 favorites in the country.
Longman & Eagle, located just across from the Logan Square train stop, is everything I like in a restaurant. It’s dark, crowded, casual and hip. But most importantly, they serve excellent food. Behind the bar, high on a shelf filled with liquor and a few stray odds and ends, is a plaque with a Michelin star on it.
Longman & Eagle is a Michelin-starred restaurant housed in a dive bar. No pretense. To its core, it’s all about the food, the quality of the ingredients, the community, the energy and the experience. One is likely to be seated by a foodie who made the pilgrimage from hundreds of miles away or next to a bearded, flannel-clad local from next door who is steadily making his way through the impressive whiskey inventory.
Longman & Eagle could actually be, and may actually be, classified as an inn. There are six rooms for rent above the restaurant. Jessica Herman, in a piece for “Time Out Chicago,” said, “Think of it as crashing at your friend’s place that happens to have awesome local art, an Apple TV in every room, and a raid-able minibar stocked with Vosges chocolates and Coppo wine for 4 a.m. snacking.” And the showers are huge.
During this most recent trip to Chicago I ate at places with a total of four Michelin stars. The star that shines the brightest, however, was perched on the back bar at Longman & Eagle.
There were two instances where I pulled a maneuver my management team calls “The St. John.” I have on several occasions – usually in first-course offerings – ordered a menu item that tasted so good I stopped the dining flow immediately, and ordered another round of the same dish we just finished. At Longman & Eagle, I did this twice. That is a record.
We ate roasted marrow bones, pastrami-spiced pig’s head, wild boar sloppy joes, pork shank and deconstructed rabbit pot pie. All of those dishes were excellent. But the two items I doubled up on were in another stratosphere. First, a salad of compressed melon and fig with local greens, toasted pine nuts, artisanal goat cheese and a honey-chili vinaigrette. Simple, delicate, excellent. Though the English pea agnolotti with roasted Trumpet Royal mushrooms, Grana Padano, and black truffle vinaigrette was the winner of the evening.
After one bite I was flagging down the server to order another.
The second time we were made aware we could add fresh morel mushrooms for $15. Note: The answer to “Would you like to add fresh morel mushrooms to that dish?” is always, “yes.”
best of 2012
The compressed melon and agnolotti dishes represented the best items I ate during the entire trip. Actually, they represent the best dishes I have eaten in 2012, and I spent the first two months of the year in Spain and France.
They can call it “The St. John maneuver” all they want. I call it wise eating.
So here’s to another food-filled 12 years (deadlines and all), and hopes of many more meals at Chicago’s Longman & Eagle.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of numerous books.