SF Hound visiting - please critique my list
I'll be in Chicago for five days this July. I plan to have one blow out meal at Alinea, but I'm looking for more budget minded recs for the other days. For dinner, I like places that serve great food that isn't too fussy (skirt steak over filet, lamb shank over rack) in a casual atmosphere. I like to go a bit more refined at lunch, because I can get a taste of gourmet without dropping a bill. It's important to me that chefs have a commitment to using organic or sustainable ingredients.
Normally, I'd do a lot more preliminary research than this, but as you know the current search feature is basically useless. Any links to relevant threads are much appreciated.
Here's my preliminary list. I'd appreciate any feedback, answers to my questions, places that should be avoided, or any glaring omissions.
Black Bird - Looks like my dream lunch, I can't resist a pork belly sandwich
North Pond - dinner looked fabulous, but too $$$$. I noticed they serve lunch in the Summer (I'm visiting in July) but no lunch menu was posted. Anyone try it for lunch? Reports including dishes sampled and prices?
Rick Bayless - want to try upscale Mexican, but I still can't stomach spending $35/plate (I grew up on taco trucks in SoCal, so this is a bizarre concept for me). I've settled on one Bayless spot for lunch - but I can't really tell the difference between Frontera and Topolobampo. Thoughts?
Trotters to Go - I'm still pissed at him over the foie debacle, but I figure I'll give his take out a shot. Website was pretty vague, what all do they serve here? Is it appropriate for a budget dinner instead of lunch?
Prairie Grass Cafe - Looks like my kind of place. Reasonable prices, casual atmosphere, organic food
Lula Cafe - Prices are attractive, though the menu doesn't excite me. Thoughts?
Hot Chocolate - How is the savory food here? Seems really casual, which works when a place is chef-driven, but also has the potential to fall flat on its face. Should I just pop in for dessert, or try it for dinner?
Brunch - What is the best spot in Chicago for a delicious Saturday brunch? (I'll be on the plane Sunday morning)
Places I'm unsure about:
Campagnola Restaurant - No online menu (I hate that!) I eat a lot of incredible Italian food in SF, is this worth a visit? How are the prices?
Sunflower Bistro - What are their prices like? Food looks good, but the online menu leaves prices blank (I really hate that!)
Heartland Cafe - I'm curious about the buffalo. Is it any good?
I'm also looking for recs for good food shopping. Farmers' Markets, specialty stores, cheese, sausage, charcuterie, delis, or any other worthwhile food shops. Anything conveniently located near a good picnic spot?
Lastly, are there any "only in Chicago" foods that I would be a fool to miss? I'm willing to waive my organic restrictions a few times a year for something unique or special.
Thank you for any advise. I promise to give a thorough report back after my trip.
This isn't for a meal, but... If you find yourself near Intelligentsia Coffee, get some. They know their stuff -- try the Italian style cap. Lots of restos serve their coffee, so if you don't make it there, you'll probably encounter it anyway. I believe the Custom House serves it.
They have Trotter's to Go sandwiches if you get curious about them and want to take a look. I wish I lived in Chicago just for Intelligentsia.
Wow! Thank you so much for all of the input. Here is my revised list:
Dinners: Alinea, Frontrera Grill, Burt's Place, Lula Cafe
Lunches: Blackbird, Hot Doug's
Brunch: Custom House
Tentative (convince me): Noha, Avec
I'll also try and make it to a few of the markets recommended (not sure quite how much I can eat in only five days).
How does my list look now? Anything I should add or remove?
Does the Wednesday Farmers' Market have good options for a light (pre-Alinea) lunch?
I read that Frontrera only takes same day reservations. Is it at all difficult to score one? Can I bet on it?
I read that Burt's hours are really unreliable. Is that true? Anyone know what the fixed hours are?
To answer a few questions: I'll be staying on the lake, I wont have a car, but I love public transit (already figured out how to get to Morton Grove for pizza), and I'm open to any suggestions that you think are worthwhile.
re: Morton the Mousse
> How does my list look now?
I think you've got some great choices there.
> Anything I should add or remove?
> Dinners: Alinea, Frontrera Grill, Burt's Place, Lula Cafe
Personally, I don't care for the pizza at Burt's Place, and I don't think it's worth the shlep. Some people like it, maybe partly because it's such a small place and you have to be "in the know". I just don't like the whole burnt crust thing; I'm not opposed in principle, I just like the taste of Giordano's and Lou Malnati's far better.
> Tentative (convince me): Noha, Avec
Naha and Avec are in the "casual fine dining" genre. They are very good, to be sure, but haven't blow me away the way meals at One Sixty Blue and Aigre Doux and Oceanique have. In fact, I would easily choose any of those three over Lula Cafe, too.
> I read that Frontrera only takes same day reservations. Is it at all difficult to score one? Can I bet on it?
You need to call them when they first start answering the phone at 8:30 a.m. and not wait till later in the day. If you do that, theoretically you should have no problem, but I haven't actually tried it in a while.
If you have trouble getting reservations, another good choice (besides Topolobampo, of course) is Adobo Grill, with locations in Old Town and Wicker Park.
> I read that Burt's hours are really unreliable. Is that true? Anyone know what the fixed hours are?
Burt's is a small, single-proprietor place, and they are sometimes closed at their posted times without notice. It's also possible to arrange for them to be open when they are closed according to their posted hours.
8541 N. Ferris
Morton Grove, IL
Lunch Wed, Thu, Fri 11:00am-1:30pm
Dinner Sun,Wed,Thu 4:30pm-9:00pm
Dinner Fri, Sat 4:30pm-10:00pm
CLOSED Mon, Tue
If you find that they are closed, Pequod's is a couple of blocks away, and their pizza is similar, so it makes for an appropriate alternative. Also, at some time in the near future, Pequod's is moving to a site about a mile west on Dempster, so it will be further. www.pequodspizza.com (Burt's has no website.) Again, though, I really don't care for Burt's and Pequod's, and I don't think that they are representative of the best pizza in Chicago (even though some others like them). And if Morton Grove isn't convenient to you, it involves a lot of time to get there.
>> To answer a few questions: I'll be staying on the lake, I wont have a car, but I love public transit (already figured out how to get to Morton Grove for pizza)
Note that you can get to Morton Grove using either the Metra commuter trains ( www.metrarail.com ) or the Pace suburban bus service ( www.pacebus.com ). Both Pequod's and Burt's Place are just a couple short blocks from the Morton Grove stop on the Milwaukee District North line on Metra, and from the 250 bus on Pace. Either one will work, and depending on where you're coming from, either may be more convenient for you.
Saturday brunches are hard to come by in chicago (as opposed to lunches). I would (just my 2 cents) do Frontera Grill for brunch, as it has a real brunch option for you for a Saturday instead of dinner. I would do Naha for a lunch (but would not use up a dinner on it). Custom House is a good dinner option if you are in a steak state of mind. Otherwise, pick something fun outside or out of the ordinary--a lot of these have the same nouveau american menus, which can get a bit boring--one steak, one lamb, one chicken, etc. Avec is fun. I want to twist your arm on this one. But, as others have said, you must be in the mood-as it is loud, with communal tables. Sometimes I prefer sitting at the bar, takling with the staff, trying various wines, etc. Do you like thai? sushi? Your list is looking good, otherwise. (Not sure about burt's pizza, though)...
> Custom House is a good dinner option if you are in a steak state of mind.
Custom House is far, far more than just steaks, and is generally not considered a steakhouse. It is a casual fine dining restaurant with a wide variety of dishes in a contemporary American framework. People sometimes refer to it as a "meat" restaurant because it has relatively more meat dishes than Shawn McClain's other two restaurants (Spring, which leans towards seafood but also has meat, and Green Zebra, which is almost exclusively vegetarian), but you can go to Custom House and get, well, just about anything. (The menu on their website at www.customhouse.cc shows ten entrees, of which only three are steaks.)
I agree with ljero that Frontera is an excellent choice among the limited set of places that do Saturday brunch. If you guys go early and are willing to eat at the bar or at the counter in the back it shouldn't be a long wait.
ljero also makes an excellent point that too much New-American food might get a bit boring. If you want to throw another type of cuisine into your list, I'll echo ljero's suggestion of Thai, and suggest specifically TAC, which is easy to get to on the el (under the Sheridan stop on the Red Line; closed Tuesdays). Here is a link with photos of a dinner held at TAC:
If you go, be sure to consult Erik M's translation of the Thai-language menu there:
(Erik M's website is sadly not available right now, so the picture links in the translation don't work.)
I haven't been to Burt's, so I can't speak to that, but it does seem like a long trip out there on public transportation.
re: Morton the Mousse
I think you have a great list. In deciding between Naha and Avec, you really need to decide what kind of experience you're looking for. Naha is your standard model 3-star place. Very good food, which I would describe as contemporary American with Mediterranean influences. Avec, on the other hand, is a bit less traditional. First, they don't take reservations so that should be a consideration. It is a very small space where you either eat at the bar or at communal tables, so you need to make sure you're comfortable with that. The food is outstanding. They usually have some sort of slow-cooked pork item on the menu which is always good.
To sum up, great food at both but two totally different experiences. You just need to decide what you're looking for.
re: Morton the Mousse
"Does the Wednesday Farmers' Market have good options for a light (pre-Alinea) lunch?"
I've only been to the Saturday Green City Market, not to the Wednesday version. On Saturday the answer is definitely yes, as SuzMiCo said above, and I'd bet the Wednesday one would give you good options too. Even if the prepared food vendors (pizza, etc) aren't there, you could get bread and cheese and fruit from the various stands and put together your own light picnic.
By the way, Portland chowhound extramsg has some great pictures from Green City Market on his website, along with many other photos from his Chicago "eatathon" in the summer of 2004. (In the link below, click on Chicago, then on Green City Market.)
Or, if your hotel is near Fox and Obel, you could get picnic supplies there before coming up to Lincoln Park. (Do you know about the free trolleys in the summer? The schedules and route maps should be available soon on the city's website.)
If the market doesn't work out for you for lunch, you could walk about a mile south on Lasalle to Cafe Iberico for a tapa or two.
If you instead want to head north, Lincoln Park is beautiful for walking around. The adjacent Lincoln Park neighborhood is roughly comparable to the Marina district in SF, more yuppie and not so chowish in its food options. One possibility for a good sandwich, though, would be at the Austrian Bakery, about a mile north of the Green City Market on Clark.
Old Town, directly west of the farmers' market, is another nice spot for a walking tour (have to get your appetite built up for Alinea!). Narrow streets and old houses that survived the Chicago Fire.
PS: Regarding Custom House for Saturday -- I *think* they just have a basic breakfast on Saturday (it's in a hotel), not the full-blown brunch that they'd offer on Sunday. I'm sure it'd still be good, but it might not be as elaborate as what you're expecting.
Fox & Obel is a good choice for local cheese (mixed in with some of the same imported and domestic selections you find at lots of gourmet markets) and some fresh baked breads. The rest of the selection is pretty much the same stuff you'd find in the Bay Area at a place like Draeger's. F&O is good though if you want one-stop shopping for a picnic.
There are a LOT more things that Fox and Obel does well. Their fresh meats and seafood are superb. (In particular, I love the chicken breasts with the cornbread-andouille stuffing.) Their prepared foods are consistently excellent, especially the soups. The pastries are wonderful; I especially recommend their cinnamon twist rolls (best in the world), bran muffins (ditto), chocolate brut (a chocolate bread pudding), and panna cotta.
Also, the cafe in the rear serves all day long and has terrific food at bargain prices for that neighborhood. Not much on atmosphere - just your basic coffeehouse - but it's a very special place in the downtown area, for locals and visitors alike.
re: Morton the Mousse
re: Morton the Mousse
Give Hot Doug's a shot. It's not "typical" Chicago hot dog stand. On weekends fries are cooked on duck fat.
What's more his sausage choices go way beyond the Vienna Beef variety most places serve, including stuff like Merguez Lamb Sausage with Fiery Harissa and Feta Cheese, Saucisson Alsacienne: Bacon Sausage with Creme Fraiche, Caramelized Onions and Muenster Cheese, and Mushroom and Swiss Pork Sausage with Blue Cheese Dijonnaise and Shiitake Mushrooms sauteed in duck fat.
Need I say more?
re: Morton the Mousse
In my humble opinion they are not what I would call a true "chicago style hot dog", they have some interesting variations of a hot dog on the menu, but not where I would go for the above mentioned "chicago style" hot dog. I have been a couple of times, and they do the gourmet sausage thing pretty good.
Search hot dogs on the chicago board, and Gene & Judes, Wieners Circle, Superdawg(kind of a old time drive-in spot open since 1948), and a few others come up on the list. I am more of a South Side/suburban guy but get into the city alot so some of the spots I amy recommend may be hard for a traveler without a car.
Its nothing personal against Hot Doug's but I just dont enjoy his vision of what a hot dog is. No right or wrong in my book, just different.
Once again I think your list looks great either way. Enjoy your visit, and culinary tour of Chicago.
Definitely go to Blackbird.
I would skip Trotters all together--the prepared foods are just not that good.
If you want take out for lunch--grab from Fox & Obel, a fabulous gourmet grocery store and you can walk to Millenium park, which has some nice areas to picnic.
Custom House for lunch or dinner (www.customhouse.cc)--flat iron steak, not filet! chef also has a seafood (Spring) and vegetarian (Green Zebra) for your organic fix.
Saturday brunch go to Frontera Grill, as they serve many of their popular items then, as well.
I would stay away from all three of the restaurants you listed minus Lula.
I would definitely go have dinner at Avec, next door to blackbird one night, as it is low key, fun with good small plates, wine and charcuterie (they do not take reservations).
For another fun dinner (or lunch) and something authentic, if you like thai, go north to TAC Quick Thai (see my posting), take some riesling, alsatian gewurtz and order everything off the menu in thai (there is a translation on this board).
Also try Schwa if you want an upscale dinner (very expensive, but interesting food) in a small venue--but make a res now!
If you want a nice outdoor patio (it will be July in Chicago, afterall), then try Shanghai Terrace at Peninsula for upscale asian.
You have to go take a walk down Randolph Street to all of the restaurants there and then on to the Warehouse District. If you have a hankering for Italian, try Follia....great homemade pastas and fun. Check out their website. Have a drink at Fulton Lounge.
Also fun/funky is Delacosta (check it out when you are at Fox and Obel). It is latin/fusion with ceviches, tapas, etc.
hope this helps! email with any questions!
> Also fun/funky is Delacosta (check it out when you are at Fox and Obel). It is
> latin/fusion with ceviches, tapas, etc.
Hello, fellow SF Bay Area visitor. Two of us here for a conference met an Aussie for dinner at DeLaCosta last Thursday. We ate a little bit light, so just a few comments. The ambiance definitely is trendy; surprised to see two "DJs" for a restaurant. Our server Jeanette had very strong opinions which she spelled out for us in no uncertain terms. It was difficult to disappoint her by making other choices; there were some noises and looks of disapproval. ;-)
I liked the Thai-influenced "ceviche" featuring tender slices of pink tuna, slivers of squid, and a light marinade with coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime and Thai chili. The salmon ceviche was served over sliced of green apple drenched in (I felt) an excess of very sour key lime juice. Holding the salmon on your tongue until the sourness faded allowed the richness of the fish to come through. Challenging, but ultimately rewarding. The horseradish foam supplied very little bite; could use more horseradish and less air, or perhaps it just suffered in comparison with the other two selections. The third choice was the Ecuadorian shrimp in a tomato sauce, served with popcorn and corn nuts. I am not so fond of floppy shrimp, but oddly the flavors did work with the corn, even if the texture was not to my liking.
An appetizer of 5 diminutive marlin tacos delivered big smoked fish taste, but the shells left a puddle of oil in the hand, which was a bit disconcerting. The lamb ribs (not recommended by our server) were somewhat strong on lamb flavor and smothered in a very sweet BBQ sauce. They were propped up on a black object that we didn't eat until encouraged to do so: a thickly cut yucca fry that had been charred but surprisingly didn't taste burnt. The scallop entree got a good review, but I didn't try it myself.
You could spend a bit less on your seafood at a more traditional restaurant, but this place is more fun.
There are lots of good comments above, particularly those from SuzMiCo. Just to add a few of my own, directed specifically towards your questions:
>> I've settled on one Bayless spot for lunch - but I can't really tell the difference between Frontera and Topolobampo. Thoughts?
Topolobampo is more upscale and is considerably more expensive for dinner. For lunch, the price difference is quite small. Plus, you can make reservations in advance for Topolobampo; Frontera only accepts them the same day you're dining. Bottom line - for lunch, Tuesday-Friday, do Topolobampo.
>> Trotters to Go - I'm still pissed at him over the foie debacle, but I figure I'll give his take out a shot. Website was pretty vague, what all do they serve here? Is it appropriate for a budget dinner instead of lunch?
No. Trotter's To Go is a great convenience for those who happen to be in the vicinity and needing a quick and easy carry-out. But it's really nothing special. To an out-of-towner looking for a top food experience, don't waste your time.
>> Prairie Grass Cafe - Looks like my kind of place. Reasonable prices, casual atmosphere, organic food
In addition to the location issue raised by SuzMiCo, it's worth noting that Prairie Grass is VERY noisy and crowded. Maybe that matters to you, maybe not.
>> Brunch - What is the best spot in Chicago for a delicious Saturday brunch? (I'll be on the plane Sunday morning)
This topic has a good summary of brunch options:
To start with, you have a lot of places that specialize in breakfast/brunch all week long, some of which have multiple locations: Orange, Bongo Room, Kitsch'n, Flo, Wishbone, M. Henry.
To those options, you can add a limited number of restaurants known for their dinner food but also are open for breakfast/brunch on Saturdays (I'm not talking about those open for lunch, but those with a specific brunch menu and/or open earlier): Frontera Grill, Custom House, NoMi, and Sola.
>> Campagnola Restaurant - No online menu (I hate that!) I eat a lot of incredible Italian food in SF, is this worth a visit? How are the prices?
Campagnola is a pretty good casual Italian restaurant in Evanston. If you're in Evanston anyway, it's worth a visit, although other good casual Italian places in Evanston (Gio, Trattoria DOC) are equally good. If you're not in Evanston anyway, I wouldn't make a special trip to Evanston for any of these; there are plenty of very good casual Italian restaurants in many parts of the city and suburbs.
>> I'm also looking for recs for good food shopping. Farmers' Markets, specialty stores, cheese, sausage, charcuterie, delis, or any other worthwhile food shops. Anything conveniently located near a good picnic spot?
Fox and Obel is our leading gourmet food store and is definitely worth a visit. There are more specialized shops in all categories; it just depends on what you're looking for.
>> Lastly, are there any "only in Chicago" foods that I would be a fool to miss?
Here, I agree with SuzMiCo's recommendations for deep-dish pizza.
Morton, as a fellow SF hounder who lived in Chicago, I'd say to skip Trotter's. Campagnola's is average by SF standards and not really worth the price. Here are some other recos for stores and specialty shops (plus a couple of restaurants):
Chicago has a great Polish tradition in sausages and one of the best places to go is Bobak's. It's a big supermarket deep in the Polish area near Midway. They have tons of house cured meats and sausages. Tons! Great place to get sausage for a picnic. www.bobak.com
For hot dogs, go to Hot Doug's. Very chicago. You can't do Chicago without a hot dog. www.hotdougs.com
Spice House in Old Town on Wells for custom spice mixes. www.thespicehouse.com
Hema's for Indian (the one off of Devon) It's in a big Indian neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops. (no website, go to the one on Oakley)
Get wine for your picnic at Fine Wine Brokers. www.fwbchicago.com
Go here for cheese. www.cheesestandsalone.net
For the more higher end meat go to Paulina market, they supply many of the restaurants. A little pricey, but excellent quality. www.paulinameatmarket.com
Brasserie Jo is a good restaurant more downtown. It's the same chef as Everest (Chicago's Fancy Fussy French place). But B-Jo is a more casual Allsacian style place that is worth at least an app and a glass, or lunch. www.brasseriejo.com
Middle Eastern Bakery & Market is near the lakefront on the Northside and they can set you up with a great picnic lunch. Fresh pita.
mHenry for breakfast on the northside. www.mhenry.net
That should keep you busy.Sorry the list is a little scattered. But these places are all good. You'll need a car to get around.
One small correction - Brasserie Jo isn't open for lunch. Hasn't been for ages, I believe.
Morton, for God's sake, don't go to Heartland. It's just awful, and the service is atrocious. Parking is impossible, and the Red Line of the El is just a mess at the moment - it takes forever and a day to get anywhere, and for a thoroughly mediocre meal, it's not worth it. Now Lula, on the other hand, you'll like, I bet. It's always struck me as a place that would fit in well in Berkeley. The chef/owners are pretty cool kids. Give it a shot - the food is a LOT better than the menu makes it sound. Also, you have to go to Hot Doug's. Doug is The Man. Just beware of the somewhat limited hours - Doug closes up shop on Sunday, and is only open til 4. Go! Twice!! :o)
In the category of refined restaurants which would be less expensive at lunch, check out Custom House and Naha. Custom House sources (some? all?) of its meat from organic/sustainable places -- same chef as the vegetarian-focused Green Zebra mentioned above.
And, to throw out a couple more dinner ideas: Spacca Napoli, for Neapolitan style pizzas in a wood burning oven? Avec, sister restaurant of Blackbird (and right next door) -- small plates, open at 3:30 everyday, no reservations. Thought it might seem redundant to go to both, a good friend of mine (now a chef) was in town a few weeks ago for the culinary professionals convention and did both Avec and Blackbird -- she enjoyed both of them but actually preferred Avec.
By the way, Morton, where in the city will you be staying and will you have a car?
Here is a link to a good article about Hot Doug's. This guy is for real. A trained chef, who is a bit quirky so he opened a hot dog restaurant. He was featured in the NY Times DIning Section a few years back. I'm not sure if this is that article exactly, but it is worth a read.
The number one "only in Chicago" food that I'm always after is the caramel popcorn from any Garrett's, http://www.garrettpopcorn.com, but if you don't care about popcorn, it won't mean a thing (I realize this isn't what you're asking for). Have lots of fun. I was in Chicago exactly 11 years ago and made sure we went to a great dinner place every night.
I know your posts from the SF board, and it sounds like you've done some solid research on what's available here. Here are a few disjointed comments (more later perhaps).
How about doing Frontera as your Saturday brunch?
If you are willing to go out to the suburbs, you should check out Vie in Western Springs. I haven't been there myself, but it sounds perfect for your interests. Here is a lengthy thread on LTHForum.com (another place you should look to for Chicago food discussion):
Are you interested in exploring the ethnic side of Chicago dining? Cuisines that are better in Chicago than the Bay Area include Thai and Mexican. Yes, I know you have Bayless on your list, but there is so much more, out in the neighborhoods. Also Greek, Czech, Polish, Lithuanian, Puerto Rican... Chinese in general is not as strong as the Bay Area, but there is a Yunnanese place, Spring World, which as far as I know is not represented out by you.
I'd say for shopping, too, the real strengths of Chicago are in the ethnic neighborhoods. In terms of "gourmet ghetto" items, what Chicago has won't wow someone from Berkeley (for produce, your best bet is the Green City Market mentioned by SuzMiCo, and for charcuterie you might enjoy Fox and Obel, a Dean and Deluca-ish grocery). But what I think is great about Chicago is that you can go to a Polish deli or a Mexican dairy store or a Russian bakery or the giant Korean H-Mart and what you find there is the real deal, marketed to members of the community. If you want to explore the neighborhoods of Chicago, just let us know.
By the way, if you are in the Loop and need a quick lunch, Hannah's Bretzel is all organic. Intelligentsia coffee has a couple locations in the Loop -- founded by an alumnus of Peets, and committed to environmentally and socially responsible coffee sources.
In any event, I'm sure you'll enjoy your visit. Looking forward to hearing about it afterwards.
Trotter's to go probably not worth the trip just for luch.
For food, go to the Spice House (1512 N. Wells). Every Spice you can think of. Its also in a nice neighborhood with lots of potential lunch options. If you're interested, its also a block away from the Second City Comedy Club.
There are great Indian (2200 to 2600 W. Devon) and SE Asian (Argyle Broadway to Sheridan south on Broadway) neighborhoods with tons of specialty food stores if you are intersted. Accessible on the Red Line if you don't have a car.
Sams is a big wine store with an excellent selection of cheese in the back - and maybe charcuterie as well. Might be a little inconvenient if you don't have a car.
Since Chicago is known for high end Mexican Cuisine, you might want to replace one of your non-Alinea dinner's with a meal at Frontera or something similar. FYI, Frontera and Topolobampo share a kitchen, with Topolobampo having a higher-end menu. Frontera is better during the week because they don't take reservations, so the wait can get very long on weekends. Salpicon is another very good Mexican option by one of Bayless' proteges. I've heard good things about De La Costa, although I have never been there.
Looks like a good list. Do you realize that some of your selections are in the suburbs? Will you have a car? In particular, Prarie Grass Cafe is up in Northbrook, and is not easily accessible from the city by public transportation. Campagnola is in Evanston, much more easily accessible by public transit, but still a distance from downtown.
You might want to combine your Saturday brunch with your farmer's market shopping. Green City Market at the south end of Lincoln Park (near Clark and Lincoln) is wonderful. It's open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. On Saturdays, there are a bunch of booths that make crepes, paninis, even pizzas (although I'm not sure if the Pizza guys are coming back this year), not to mention several outstanding bakeries with booths. There are chairs around for eating while you are there, or you can just wander out into the park for a more private picnic.
- Orange - bright, fun brunch restaurant with interesting options like appetizers of frushi (fruit sushi) and an amazing array of juices that they will squeeze and mix fresh for you. They are open most days, so you could go on a non-weekend and save yourself the hassle of standing in line.
Some other suggestions (although I don't know that much about which chefs use organic and/or sustainable ingredients, you should do your own investigation):
- Chicago pizza - it's worth trying stuffed or deep dish pizza while you are here. There are innumerable discussions on this board. I think you can't go wrong with Giordano's, Edwardo's or Lou Malnati's (all with multiple locations).
- Mambo Grill - good, not terribly expensive latin food with good drinks. It would be a good option for a casual dinner.
- Green Zebra - sounds right up your alley. Acclaimed chef who is committed to using fresh, local vegetables. It's mostly vegetarian. I haven't been there, but it gets rave reviews. Only open for dinner, though.
- Kevin - one of the higher end restaurants that is open for lunch. Still pricey at lunch, though. Their desserts are out of this world.
- Cafe Spiaggia - the excellent, lower-priced sister restaurant to Spiaggia. Wonderful Italian food, including exquisite pastas. Open for lunch or dinner (Spiaggia is also wonderful, but $$$$ and only open for dinner).