Chicago Restaurants Celebrate Fall’s Favorite Food
It’s finally fall, which means that nearly every type of food establishment, from grocery stores and coffee shops to gourmet restaurants and food trucks, are offering their much-anticipated annual pumpkin makeovers. The yearly all-out pumpkin palooza and Decorative Gourd Season is in full swing, and to celebrate, F Newsmagazine tested four different iterations of the season’s favorite fruit (yes, pumpkins are fruits, not vegetables).
Howells & Hood: Falling for Flan
Flan haters, prepare to have your minds forever changed about the eggy custard dessert. Howells & Hood has an offering that may permanently retire your pumpkin spiced latte: Executive Chef Sam Walton crafts an elegantly-plated pumpkin flan that is finished with chopped walnuts, a spear of pumpkin seed brittle, and dollop of whip cream.
The first bite reveals a pure pumpkin flavor unscathed by syrupy sweeteners, and warm spices enhance the fruit’s earthiness. Chef Walton’s dessert has a denser texture than traditional flan, giving it a heartier quality. Perfect textural balance is achieved with each bite into the crunchy brittle.
This delicately sweetened pumpkin flan will have you living by author Ernestine Ulmer’s wise words that are transcribed on Howells & Hood’s dessert menu: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”
435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; howellsandhood.com
Peet’s Coffee and Tea: A Syrupy Mess
From pumpkin Oreos to pumpkin yogurt, nearly every food is getting a pumpkin facelift these days, but the pumpkin spice latte remains the perennial favorite. No autumn is complete without partaking in the season’s quintessential drink. A cheery chalkboard sign beckoning, “Stop In For A Pumpkin Pie Chai Latte,” convinced me to stop into Peet’s Coffee and Tea on Michigan Avenue in the Loop.
Peet’s serves up their version with more flare than Starbucks by adding chai to their drink. One would think that the spicy notes of the chai and pumpkin blend would create a pleasing harmony of flavors, but the first sip reveals this beverage to be a fall tragedy. Peet’s syrupy latte lacks any nuance of flavor and tastes more like a drink concentrate that has been heated up in a microwave than an artisan creation. At $4.00 for a small, one may be tempted to triage the latte, but no amount of milk can remedy this disgusting saccharine disaster.
Multiple locations; peets.com
More’s Pumpkin Cupcakes: More, Please!
The tastiest cupcake shop in Chicago is on wheels, and it parks itself outside my Streeterville apartment at least four glorious days each week. Since discovering the More Cupcakes truck, I have to try hard to keep myself from buying four of their miniature works of edible art each week. From salted caramel to white velvet, I haven’t met a flavor I didn’t like, so when I heard they were baking pumpkin cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, I knew the results would be nothing less than craveable.
Like all of More’s creations, the pumpkin cupcake begins with a homemade batter that is light and moist. Not overly sweet, mellow notes of nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon to shine through. Every time the tangy cinnamon cream cheese frosting meets the pumpkin cake, it’s sweet and savory bliss.
1 E. Delaware Pl., Chicago, IL 60611; morecupcakes.com
Chez Moi: Four Course Pumpkin Fest
There is a pumpkin festival going on at Chez Moi, a cozy French restaurant in Lincoln Park, and Chef Dominique Tougne is offering a four-course pumpkin-infused prixe-fixe meal for only $35. While the fruit is usually confined to dessert status, Chef Tougne is not afraid to take pumpkin out of its comfort zone and let it lead in two main courses. This cozy restaurant offers an intimate space to enjoy the set dinner of pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli, pan seared salmon with pumpkin puree, and pumpkin crème brûlée. Chef Tougne treats the pumpkin with a light touch, never robbing it of its innate flavors, and each course brings out a different aspect its rich palette of flavors.
The meal begins with a simple combination of fresh pumpkin, butternut squash, and heavy cream that combine to create a creamy soup that lets the pumpkin’s earthy notes speak for themselves. Bits of sundried tomato garnish deliver a sharp, salty bite.
The pumpkin-filled ravioli sits atop a bed of sautéed mushrooms and a buttery beurre blanc sauce, providing a creamy contrast to the robust nutmeg and cinnamon flavors found in the filling.
Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, the pan-seared salmon was cooked to perfection and served atop pumpkin puree and roasted beets. The fish course’s raison d’etre, the pumpkin puree, has a mellow, sweet flavor and is the perfect compliment to the salmon and tart beets.
Chef Tougne provides the perfect finish to this fall meal by offering a pumpkin take on his crème brûlée for a delicately, understated sweet ending to the meal.
2100 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614; chezmoichicago.com