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First Impressions: Cellar Door Provisions

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Mar 28, 2014 8:30PM

Walking into Cellar Door Provisions feels a little like stepping onto a Portlandia set without a trace of irony. All satire is lost, after all, when a restaurant adheres to locavore ethics as closely as this. The food’s purity alone ought to silence the tartest tongue, but will Cellar Door Provisions survive in a marketplace that too often prefers gimmicks to genuine passion?

Even Carrie or Fred, though, couldn’t wax pedantic about the food's origins. Because everything on the menu, scribbled on butcher paper and tacked fresh each morning to the wall flanking the counter, is sourced from local farms. Partners Tony Bezsylko, Ethan Pikas, Justin Behlke and team prepare every last morsel with such relentless dedication to fresh, homemade wholesomeness that I left half tempted to buy a vending machine candy bar just to recalibrate. That or move to Portland to get this sh*t all the time.

I walked inside the Logan Square storefront Thursday around 1:30 p.m. for a late lunch, when a third of the items on offer had already sold out. The menu itself is slim and labile, with a nice top-heavy assortment of pastries such as beet tea cakes and mulberry-oat cookies as well as quiche or bread plates with homemade butter for breakfast. The space—sleek, bright and artfully bare bones, with seating at one of two communal tables—closes at 4 p.m. and is open only Wednesday through Saturday. So if you’re making this your neighborhood coffee shop, as many were at the time, your hours are limited but they’re happy ones.

Yesterday two tartines, or open-faced sandwiches, were available, so I ordered the beet with crème fraiche and greens ($8). But because there were other eats too, I also got the buckwheat dumplings with oyster mushrooms ($12) and a roasted carrot salad with kefir and elderflower ($9). The homemade ramen noodles with beef broth, winter vegetables and a soft-boiled egg ($12) sold out by 12:30 p.m., I was told, but they made for repeat requests by customers trailing me and so I soon wanted some of those too. Word is they rock.

Talking to a few of my table mates, I also found out I had cheated myself by not ordering the bread and butter ($2), but then I had already ordered enough for two people as it was, though I did manage to eat almost the full spread myself—because, well, gluttony. That and although the portion sizes are ample, the food’s preparation mirrors the restaurant’s minimalist design, leaving you feeling cleaner, possibly with better balanced qi throughout your digestive tract than when you came in, but not stuffed.

Dumplings, for example, usually number among your weightier carbs and technically should have served as a full entrée in themselves. But here, under the CDP elfin touch, they only added warmth and weight to the cold vegetable side dishes. Likewise, the house-made kefir and crème fraiche supplied smooth, textured undertones to the carrots and beets. The result proved just creamy enough for the vegetables to skate on, not drown in, begging you to eat more when heavier-handed preparation would have had me doggy-bagging the beets.

And although the ambiance is a relaxed one, there is a palpable intensity at work here, evident in the level of attention to detail from the tea cups to the chair configuration, including a heightened level of customer service. The name also almost eerily recalls Ravenswood’s quondam City Provisions, which once allied itself too closely with local farmers and admirable ethics to pay its rent. And like City Provisions, Cellar Door Provisions has also started hosting its own dinners. Yet another instance, in other words, of good people trying to live the dream. I only hope they can.

Cellar Door Provisions is located at 3025 W. Diversey.