That’s right. I’m a bona fide Top Chef fan. You might even call me a Top Chef freak since it’s my favorite show. I’ve watched every single episode, and most as they aired, resorting to DVR only if there’s an emergency (or that one semester when I had class on Wednesday night years ago). It’s my guilty pleasure, even though I don’t really feel any guilt for my love of this show. It’s good television, and probably responsible for turning me on to food beyond my standard burger-pizza-spaghetti-enchilada-taco fare. Top Chef is part of the reason why Dianderthal even exists.
Those of you who keep up may remember Stephanie Izard, a Chicago chef who bested Season 4 favorite Richard Blais (who eventually won TC Season 8) becoming the series’ first female winner. The Chicago chefs on the show have always been among the more confidant contestants, and with the restaurant scene that is Chicago, it’s no wonder why. Though I’ve been to the Windy City a couple of times before for work, this week marked my first purely tourist venture there so I had to get my eat on.
Only problem was my family, who grub differently than I do while also tripling a check. I have no problem dropping a couple $20s for an appetizer, entree, cocktail, and dessert, but to do so with my husband and kid, who’d likely not appreciate ambiance, big name chefs, farm-to-table ingredients, or any other notes of culinary significance, would be disaster. Then we’d end up up going to Chili’s or Subway to appease their appetites later on. So as with my Top Chef indulgence, I felt no guilt sneaking out of the hotel room late morning one day while my husband napped (he does that a lot) and my kid sat plugged in to a show on Netflix. My destination? Izard’s casual diner Little Goat, the baby sister to her fine dining Girl and the Goat original.
I was invigorated with some sort of traveler’s high the moment I stepped out in search of my bus stop, ready to leave the limited radius of the city we’d stayed in since our arrival. My Only Child Syndrome kicks in when I get to explore places alone, my brain feverish with the possibilities, the freedom of not worrying about pleasing or satisfying anyone else. This quick getaway was all about me, me, me.
And my belly. So I was set to please and satisfy it (since it pretty much rules the whole of me). It was easy to find and at 11:40 am the place, really a neo-70s coffee shop, was hip, happening, and wide awake, full of lunching Chicagoans. I was thrilled to be seated at the counter right near the expediter, giving me a front row view of all the action. Though I had my e-book and camera to keep me company, my attention stayed on the fun that was LG’s non-stop kitchen, pushing out burgers, fries, and other homey delights.
My friendly waitress informed me that Little Goat’s breakfast was served all day. With no set plans on my agenda, I decided to make my late morning feel brunchy, ordering the Cheesy Shrimp & Grits from the breakfast menu along with their Tempura Mashed Potatoes. And also since I had nothing to do (aside from hurrying back to the room before the family decided I was neglecting them), I ordered a drink, something called Yoda Juice, a cocktail that, simply for the name, I couldn’t resist trying even if it would have been blended with actual bits of (Little) goat. Or even with bananas (have you heard of my disdain for bananas?). Thankfully, it was citrusy and simple, a refreshing drink that got me woozy after a few sips. Blissful with this drink Yoda would be.
And blissful with my food was I. The fragrant, richly saline broth of the shrimp and grits got me salivating as soon as it was placed in front of me. Somehow, the veggies stayed crisp and distinct while floating among the dish’s other components, their flavors boosted rather than muddied by the broth; the grits bolstered by it. And the shrimp were succulent, fat, and wonderfully briny. If I had a spoon (or a straw), I would have sucked down (up) every last bit of that soupy ocean. I set my plate aside only because I wanted to try my potatoes, something that delivered on my expectation of what a tempura potato would be. Neither dish would be conquered in one sitting, but I’m a leftover queen so I was happy to ask for a couple of boxes. After taking both of my plates, the waitress returned with just one box, telling me she’d accidentally dropped my shrimp dish, and that the kitchen was firing up a new one for me to take home. She apologized about this. I was doing somersaults in my head.
I didn’t celebrate my fresh leftovers for too long, as my husband (newly awake from his nap) ate my food as soon as I got in (just about anything is good enough when it’s on me and able to be enjoyed in bed; I brought back McDonald’s for the kid). But I couldn’t complain since I was still slightly inebriated, and had had the great idea to pick up a couple of doughnuts on the way back. Can’t wait for my next trip to Chicago so I can return to Little Goat to eat the many other items on the menu I passed up since I only have this one little belly. And lots more Yoda Juice.
Little Goat Diner
820 W. Randolph Street in Chicago