Bad Hunter Will Make You Eat Your Veggies (And Love It)

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 31, 2016 7:24PM

By Amber Gibson

Los Angeles has Café Gratitude and Gracias Madre. New York has Dirt Candy. Now Chicago has Bad Hunter. While many Chicago chefs cook vegetables well, it’s about time our famous steakhouse city got a restaurant dedicated to celebrating the depth of flavor in vegetables. That restaurant is Bad Hunter, which just opened in the West Loop.

There are no faux meats here. Executive Chef Daniel Snowden eschews seitan nuggets and vegan “chorizo” for boldly dressed veggies, fungi and legumes that won’t weigh you down the way a hunk of foie does. To be clear, this is not a vegetarian restaurant. You can get fish—delicately smoked sablefish over beet kvass cream or a simple Spanish mackerel fillet a la plancha—and heck, even steak skewers to appease die-hard red meat eaters. However, even the staunchest carnivores can get onboard with Meatless Monday when presented with meaty maitake mushrooms tossed in a thick squash purée and topped with a shaved salad of raw butternut squash, almonds and ricotta.

“We’re not limiting ourselves in any way, just changing the focus a bit,” Snowden says. “Meat plays a supporting role. That’s the way I like to eat and cook at home. My goal is to create approachable, craveable food that you think about when you’re not here.”

For both 32-year-old Snowden (Nico Osteria, The Publican) and 28-year-old Pastry Chef Emily Spurlin (Floriole, The Publican) this is a breakout opportunity. Their menu flows gracefully from starters to desserts with ingredients like beets, squash and mushrooms making appearances in multiple acts, transitioning from tartare to sorbet or from pickle to custard. Snowden was Spurlin’s mentor at The Publican and it’s obvious that the two have the utmost respect for one another.

“I look to her as an equal,” Snowden says. “I respect her work ethic, palate and inventiveness. We’ve been bumped up a couple notches since working the line at The Publican.” Spurlin was planning on leaving Chicago before Snowden called her with the job opportunity. Her short but sweet dessert menu includes veggie sorbets, warm chocolate cremeux accented with frozen grapes and porcini ice cream and a cookie plate featuring a stunner of a chocolate chip cookie.

Another fellow The Publican alum, Michael McAvena, is the beverage manager. His 60-bottle wine list focuses on natural and biodynamic producers, including categories for pétillant naturel sparkling and orange wines.

“I don’t want to be the most exclusive wine place,” McAvena says. “But part of a movement that showcases this style of wine.” Most bottles are in $60-80 price range and of the easy drinking glou-glou style. Even the cocktails, by Bar Manager Josh Fossitt, are lower in alcohol and include ingredients like cold-pressed green juice and black tea.

Fittingly, the 75-seat restaurant keeps things natural with white brick, custom woodwork and lush greenery throughout. The glass-enclosed kitchen evokes a conservatory, and you can peek inside to see chefs plating and pirouetting with the unique choreography a busy restaurant requires.

Au Cheval may have the best burger in town next door, but Snowden is making the best veggie burger this city has ever seen.

“I don’t eat veggie burgers because they all suck, so my challenge was to create one that didn’t suck,” Snowden says. After 30 iterations, he’s very proud of the double patty, double Hook’s cheddar burger on the menu. Black beans make up the bulk of the patty inspired by the griddled burgers at McDonald’s and In-N-Out Burger.

“A good portion of the flavor comes from the shiitake mushrooms, miso and soy sauce,” Snowden says. You can even throw some Publican Quality Meat bacon on it if you wish. No rules, no judgment.