Friday, January 9, 2015

Local Root or the Root of the Problem

The Slow and Savory Review

"I'm thinking of opening a new bakery on Navy Pier," Brandy's good friend Mama Bee (owner and operator of Honey Bee Bakery and all its subsidiaries) said one afternoon as the two were wandering about downtown.  "Navy Pier, eh?  Trying to cater to the tourist trade?" Brandy asked jokingly.  "Well... yes!  Imagine all those hungry people milling around, looking for something to nosh on while they... do whatever it is they do at Navy Pier.  It's an untapped goldmine, I tell you."  "I hardly think it's untapped," Brandy scoffed, "If anything, if might be a little over tapped.  There may not be a bakery right on the pier, but there are so many donut shops, coffee houses, and pubs up and down Streeterville, one can hardly move for some good to eat."  "Ah, yes, but what about somewhere fresh?  Somewhere that uses only local ingredients?  Somewhere that doesn't buy into the hype of the metropolis?" Mama Bee asked.  "Yeah, they've got that covered too," said Brandy, and walked Mama Bee across the street to Local Root.

The inside of Local Root was rather eclectic and homey, more of what you would expect from a neighborhood joint in Andersonville or Roscoe Village, not a piece of prime real estate minutes away from Navy Pier.  "See?  No glitz, no pomp, no overly contrived design, just a typical diner sort of place," Brandy mused, "Isn't it nice to see they aren't trying to snag the tourists with lots of flash?"  Mama Bee shrugged.  Brandy also noticed that at the very top of the menu, the restaurant had listed which farms all of their meat and produce had come from, solidifying their commitment to serving up only locally sourced ingredients.

The pair started off with a couple of hot cocktails to warm up on such a dreary, cold day: for Mama Bee the Hot Texas Toddy with tea flavored vodka, lemon, and organic honey ("This cocktail appeals to me for some reason," Mama Bee commented, to which Brandy rolled her eyes) and for Brandy, the Diving too Deep, with apple cider, cinnamon, and aged brandy ("This one appeals to me for some reason," Brandy commented sarcastically).  Both cocktails were pretty tasty and definitely nice just to hold in their cold hands as to sip.  "More places should push hot cocktails in the winter time," Brandy commented, "Now that's how you make supply match the demand!"

One of the specials of the day was fresh beignets with a rum cream sauce for dipping, so the two ladies decided to start off with that.  The large balls of fried dough were nicely crisp on the outside and wonderfully fluffy and light on the inside with a decent bit of chew.  The rum sauce actually packed more of a punch than either Brandy or Mama Bee were expecting, and they both wished they had been given much more of it, as it seemed to disappear completely halfway through the dish.

For her entree, Mama Bee ordered the Omelette of the Day, which came with broccoli, cheddar, and spinach as well as a aside of house potatoes.  The eggs were on the denser side, which Mama Bee actually enjoyed, and the vegetables were still nicely crisp and vibrant, though Mama Bee felt the seasoning was a little heavy handed and uneven.  The potatoes were nicely crispy on the outside with a soft interior, and had been seasoned with large granule salt, which provided a nice bit of added texture to them.  "They've followed your rule of adding a bit of greenery and fruit to the plate as well," Mama Bee commented to Brandy, "Though I would have liked a little pot of honey for my toast... No matter!" and she produced several small pots of her own honey from the depths of her purse.

Brandy ordered the Crab Cake Benedict ("A rather odd thing to see on a menu concentrated on being local," Brandy said, "I'm not aware of Chicago keeping crabs in Lake Michigan."), which also came with a side of the same potatoes.  The crab cakes had a nice crabby flavor, even slightly bordering on being too pungent, and boasted a decent hit of spice, just enough to warm up the inside of one's mouth.  The somewhat aggressive flavors of the crab cake were tamed by the addition of some sauted spinach, and the poach on the eggs was near to perfect.

Though the service was adequately friendly and the food reasonably good, though unexciting, the real surprise of the meal came along with the bill.  Because Brandy has a, perhaps, bad habit of ordering things based on curiosity rather than price, she was a little more than shocked that the total for a two cocktails, a shared appetizer, and two entrees came out to just over $80 after tax and tip.  "$11 for a cocktail I can sort of understand, but $9 for a few pieces of fried dough?  $15 for an omelette?  $21 for a Benedict?!?!  How can they charge prices like these for such un-gilded food?  I've had dishes topped with caviar that cost less!"  Brandy exclaimed.  "Perhaps it's the price you pay for eating locally," Mama Bee suggested.  "Nonsense," Brandy scoffed, "I've eaten at plenty of places that use local ingredients and have never seen this kind of markup.  My guess is these prices are a product of the restaurant's location."  This hypothesis seemed to ring true for Mama Bee.  "Maybe you're right," she said, "I would love open my little bakery on Navy Pier, but perhaps the tourist game is a little too rich for my blood if this is the kind of example I'm to follow."

The Short and Sweet Review

Local Root on Urbanspoon


  1. Actually it looks like you are the "Root" of the problem. Americans pay less of their income than any other developed nation in the world on food. How do you feel about food quality, nutrition, and industrial food in America? Thats right its awful. Maybe paying more for locally sourced organic food is worth it.

    1. Hi reader. We think you've misunderstood our review of this restaurant. We have no objection to paying more for good quality, locally sourced food. What we objected to here was the lack of finesse in the preparation of the food, which had it been better would have justified the prices a little more. We support many restaurants who serve locally sourced and organic food but don't charge half the prices Local Root does. We apologize if you took offense to our review, but we are here to give our honest opinions on the brunches we enjoy and have enjoyed across Chicago for the last 4+ years. If you read some of our other reviews, you will see we were only comparing Local Root to the standard we've put all the other restaurants we visit to, and most of those restaurants price the majority of their brunch dishes between $8 and $15 for an entree. Thank you for your input.

  2. Wait! I eat here. It’s a great neighborhood restaurant with no airs. Their commitment to local & sustainable is based on a philosophy not a trend. The food is really good. You got it. But then you blew it.

    You describe their beignets as “nicely crisp on the outside & wonderfully fluffy on the inside with a decent bit of chew.” The rum sauce actually has plenty of rum in it. You say it “actually packed more of a punch than (you) were expecting.” (And, by the way, who else in town is serving fresh beignets?) But when it comes to paying for it, this unique delight becomes “$9 for a few pieces of fried dough.” Wow. The delight for your taste buds is suddenly mere dough to your wallet. Malicious.

    My experience is the brunch is priced right for the quality, service and neighborhood location. We need more of these independent restaurants. I certainly hope these guys hang around.

    1. Hi Sonny. We are very happy to see Local Root has such loyal fans. As we said in the post, we really liked the concept and philosophy behind the restaurant. We also liked the relaxed atmosphere. We also did like the food, and actually the beignets were probably our favorite part of the meal. For the record, there are quite a few places in Chicago that serve fresh beignets (see our reviews of Big Jones and Senza, for example), and in comparison to other restaurants we've been to, Local Root happened to be priced on the higher side. As we said to the commenter above, when compared to most restaurants we visits, Local Root's brunch menu was unfortunately on the pricier side, and rating price is one of our regular criteria. For example, we attended four different brunches at four different locations around the time we visited Local Root, all of which served locally sourced, organic food, and our meal at Local Root was the most expensive of the four by at least $10 on the total bill (the other locations all included comparable amounts of food and equal if not more alcoholic drinks). Thank you again for stopping by and joining in the conversation!