In 1999, Prairie Grass Café chef and cofounder Sarah Stegner, Chicago food writer Abby Mandel and a handful of Chicago’s top chefs joined forces to create Green City Market, Chicago’s premier farmers market in Lincoln Park. Green City Market has become a Midwest institution, and Stegner currently serves as its co-president.
Given her background, it’s only fitting that the menu at Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook features salads, appetizers and entrees made with locally grown and sustainable fruits, vegetables and meat.
Stegner’s numerous accolades, including two awards from the James Beard Foundation, are well-deserved. It’s no surprise that she, along with Prairie Grass Café co-founder and chef George Bumbaris, can take a popular menu item like the all-American hamburger, give it a makeover and transform it into something fresh, flavorful and unique.
Voted by Chicago Magazine readers as the #1 sirloin burger in the city, Prairie Grass Café’s version pairs this classic standby with Amish blue cheese, a juicy beefsteak tomato, grilled onions and potato wedges that outdo French fries any day. It’s presented without a bun— an ideal choice for proponents of a high-protein, low-carb diet.
A restaurant located in the Midwest can’t ignore beef, but vegetarians won’t be disappointed. The seasonal vegetarian dinner boasts quinoa cakes and roasted vegetables as well as a phyllo strudel of mushrooms, glazed onions, Gruyere cheese, butternut squash and turnips with hazelnuts.
Prairie Grass Café is a member of the Shedd Aquarium’s “Right Bite” program, guaranteeing that all of its fish selections are from ecologically sustainable fisheries. The ahi tuna seared rare combines savory and slightly sweet flavors and includes baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and a spicy soy sauce with sesame seeds. For the diehard Midwesterner, the menu features a sautéed Lake Superior whitefish with creamy mashed potatoes complemented with a basil remoulade.
My favorite dinner entrée is the crispy half boneless chicken with brown sugar glazed acorn squash and wild rice with toasted pine nuts. Whoever said chicken is boring needs to visit Prairie Grass Café.
Dessert, including seasonal pies created by Stegner’s mother, should not be missed. Upon one visit, I enjoyed a cupcake that looked just like a Hostess cupcake from my childhood lunchbox, but this one had adult-size chocolate flavor with a swirl of creamy vanilla frosting.
Prairie Grass Café features a Sunday and Saturday brunch that equals any trendy city hot spot. A quick drive to Northbrook on a Sunday morning and you may get served faster than the time it takes to stand in line outside your favorite Chicago pancake place.
Ingredients from local sustainable farms, menu items for vegetarians and meat-lovers, and awardwinning chefs make Prairie Grass Café a delicious destination for suburbanites and city dwellers.
Prairie Grass Café is located at 601 Skokie Boulevard, Northbrook; (847) 205-4433. The restaurant serves lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Sunday. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit prairiegrasscafe.com.
Linda Mura O’Toole studied English and journalism at Boston College and spent 20 years working in public relations and marketing. Linda is also a yoga teacher who strives to teach with integrity, honesty and compassion.