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First Look: Homestead

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jul 19, 2012 4:00PM

These days, lots of restaurants have beautiful rooftop gardens - but how many let you eat in them? Homestead, a new local-food focused restaurant from the group behind Bleeding Heart Bakery and Cafe and Roots Handmade Pizza, brings the restaurant-garden connection to a whole new level.

The restaurant was designed by former Time Out Chicago food editor Heather Shouse's company Bottle and Branch. We're happy to see that Shouse is as good a designer as she is a writer: the space is beautiful. The rooftop deck, illuminated by strings of Edison bulbs, feels like an oasis in the city, surrounded by garden on two sides. The interior of the restaurant is filled with reclaimed wood tables, terrariums and air plants. One wall, near the bar, sports a "living wall," a vertical garden plot filled with leafy greens.

The menu fits with the green theme of the restaurant—every item on the menu has something picked from the garden. Don't expect much this early in the year (and this early in the life of the garden) but a little touch is visible on every plate. In the future, Homestead will be working with a number of urban farms to try to get as much food as possible from close by.

The restaurant sports a surprisingly healthy menu, though you wouldn't know it to taste the food. Nothing is smothered in butter, cheese or fat; only one dish uses butter. Chef John Wayne Formica—we're not making that name up—used to work at Sunda and C-House, but the menu here is lighter than at either of his former haunts. The baked-to-order baguette is topped with yogurt cheese, olive oil, mint, fennel and coriander for an herbal kick. The lamb tartare is mixed with bulgur for a little extra heft and topped with a salad of mint, parsley, cucumber and lemon. Nice to see a restaurant opening where a diner can walk out sated but not comatose. Prices are reasonable (everything is under $20) and the cocktails, created by Femme du Coupe's Revae Schneider, are summery and refreshing.

The restaurant doesn't have a sign yet, and it doesn't take reservations. Head into Roots and ask; they'll take care of you. If the weather ever cools down, be sure to take a walk through the garden.

Homestead is located at 1924 W. Chicago Ave.