Tasting Menus Return with a Tribute to Edna Lewis

A midsummer version of potted squab

A Tribute to Edna Lewis

A Taste of House Souse with Home Made Pickles and Yeast Bread

Deviled Jonah Crab with House Benne Biscuits

Genesis Growers Heirloom Tomatoes, Crisp House Bacon, Watermelon Rind Pickles, Garden herbs

Cornbread Muffins with Klug Farm Grape Jelly

Potted Squab with Giblet Stuffing, Fried Whole Hominy, Buttered Nichols Farm Green Beans, Preserved Paul Friday Blackberries, Thyme

Golden Pound Cake with Brandied Flaming Fury Peaches and Kilgus Farmstead Vanilla Custard Ice Cream

45 dollars per person, total table participation requested

Optional beverage pairings 25 dollars

Last January, when business got too brisk to maintain the quality and attention to detail for which I like to be known, we stopped offering our Southern Table Dinners so we could focus on our regular dinner menu, with the plan to eventually reintroduce tasting menus in order to have something for folks who want to leave themselves in our hands for the best way to dine with us on any given evening. Many folks have expressed their disappointment in the meantime but I can finally say they’re here!

We will offer a weekly tasting menu, usually four courses plus amuse, and generally around $45. They will usually be on the more progressive side of our cooking techniques, but at the same time they will always have a tie to a time and place in the American South. Folks who would like to turn it into an 8-course tour may do so for $75

To reintroduce our tasting menus, I chose to recall the cooking of Edna Lewis, one of the most inspiring figures in the history of American Cooking. Often called the “Grand Dame of Southern Cooking,” Edna Lewis was born in Freetown, Virginia in 1916. Freetown is a small town founded by emancipated slaves, Lewis’ grandparents among them, after the Emancipation Proclamation. She moved away to Washington D.C. when she was sixteen, and after a short while, she was in New York. Her life is an interesting one, and in the 1950’s she found herself head chef at Cafe Nicholson on 52nd Street, and was an instant success with artists and bohemians such as William Faulkner, Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, Marlena Dietrich, Gore Vidal, the list goes on…

In 1976 she published The Taste of Country Cooking, which is largely a collection of reminiscences and recipes from Freetown and the cooking, necessarily seasonal, reflects a timeless beauty because of its honesty, integrity, and intrinsic love. To me, it was a revelation for these reasons, but more importantly here were gorgeous seasonal menus right there in print in 1976 when the world of fine dining in the US was still shaped by trucked in produce and meat, compartmentalized and detached from the land so that items like filet mignon and lobster were considered the ultimate plates, any time of year. Chez Panisse was just beginning to earn notice outside California, but Edna Lewis had already written the book on seasonal cooking. If I was to recommend only one cookbook to own, this would be it.

There are other cookbooks to her credit and they are all great, and I’ve compiled some recipes that fit our time and place in Chicago.