While parking-lot-to-table doesn’t have the same culinary cachet as the now ubiquitous farm-to-table, perhaps it should. Or, at least, that’s the case at Eden, where chef Devon Quinn plucks fresh herbs, edible flowers and vegetables from his small greenhouse sitting in a corner of the West Loop restaurant’s parking lot. (The fact that Eden also offers free parking is another rare perk.)
Growing stuff is nothing new for Quinn, who’s been doing just that for the last four years at Paramount Events, the in-demand Chicago catering company he and his wife, Jodi Fyfe, own. Its 250-seat event space and commercial kitchen are located next to the 90-seat Eden, which opened in late December. Eventually Quinn hopes to have a fancier glass greenhouse, but, in the meantime, he’s making good use of the 50 or so things growing in the planters inside the plastic-protected structure. “The idea is to grow unique things that you don’t see on every plate in Chicago,” he says.
Quinn’s also not lacking when it comes to restaurant experience, having spent time in the kitchens of Trio, Terzo Piano and Del Toro. It was at the last, a progressive Spanish spot, where Quinn met Miles Schaefer, Eden’s chef de cuisine. Quinn’s diverse culinary background—“I take a little bit from everybody I’ve learned from,” he says—as well as that of his staff play a key role in the type of food being served.
What that means on Eden’s plates is a mix of Mediterranean-leaning influences along with a California aesthetic and a few modern culinary techniques here and there. It’s food that appeals to a wide variety of tastes rather than what you’d find trending this week on Instagram. (For those into that sort of thing, the towering leafy vines painted on the side of the gray building offer the perfect spot to snap a selfie.) But that doesn’t translate to boring.
Take, for instance, the umami doughnuts from the To Start menu section. Quinn takes classic beignet dough and stuffs it with a mixture of mushrooms (shiitake, morels and wild), spring onions and shiro miso paste. The deep-fried orbs get dusted with a housemade umami-rich powder and are served with a side of aerated raclette-bechamel sauce. “They’re a fun way to get the appetite going,” says Quinn. Judging by the way the doughnuts quickly disappeared, my dinner mates agreed.
Hummus veers from its chickpea origins here and instead is made with butternut squash and topped with pickled mango and herbs. Warm flatbread, courtesy of pastry chef Stefano Tulipano, is a terrific vehicle for the creamy spread. A heartier appetizer is the lamb and beef meatballs, which get some texture from crisp fava beans and zip from preserved lemon. Throw in an order of housemade bread and a glass of NV Laetitia Brut Cuvée, and you’d have a great pregame snack before walking over to nearby United Center.
The classic wedge salad also has some fun twists. Fried cranberry beans replace bacon bits—vegetarians, take note—and some smoky flavor comes through with the scallions, which are charred on Eden’s wood-burning grill, in the ranch dressing. (Meat-lovers can throw in grilled pork belly for $3.) Add points for the always-perfect locally grown MightyVine tomatoes. In another salad, tender grilled baby octopus makes for a great addition to the mound of greens and mint sitting atop a puddle of sesame-based dressing.
The housemade pastas are under the domain of Schaefer and, like the rest of the menu, change often. But if the fennel brandade-stuffed tortelli is available, get it. The plump ravioli-like pasta comes topped with a zesty sauce of tomatoes, green garlic, pine nuts and pickled raisins. Bits of finocchiona salami add a lovely fennel note.
Entrees number seven—look for some specials soon, says Quinn—with all the protein groups represented, including a bouillabaisse-like seafood stew, Portuguese-spiced chicken, skirt steak and a vegetable-heavy curried lentil dish topped with a soft-boiled egg. Lamb loin comes with terrific lamb sausage as well as Castelvetrano olives and cubes of pistachio-yogurt panna cotta, which add a refreshing note even when they inevitably melt.
Italian-born Tulipano is doing some interesting things with desserts too. His coconut sorbet adds in savory ingredients via cilantro sponge cake, cucumber granita and a sprinkling of dill, which surprises in all the right ways. Those looking for a more traditional end to their meal won’t be disappointed with the chocolate crunch: log-shaped chocolate cake with chocolate gelato and toffee brittle.
The easy-breezy vibe of the white-and-green space accented with lush plants is a perfect fit for Quinn’s easy-to-enjoy food. (For a closer look, book a spot at the chef’s counter, which offers five-course tasting menus, including one for vegetarians, as well as a front-row seat to the kitchen action.) “Eden is a work in progress and always changing to reflect the seasons,” says Quinn, who’s looking forward to seeing what his greenhouse will bring next. We are too.
1748 W. Lake St., 312.366.2294
Dinner Tue.-Sat., brunch Sun.
To start, $4-$8; first course, $11-$19; housemade pasta, $18-$19; entrees, $21-$36; dessert, $8; chef’s counter five-course tasting, $50, or $75 with wine pairings