The Heritage, which opened in September, is one of the more promising new restaurants to come to Forest Park. The name of the restaurant is written in gold on the front window in an old-timey font, suggesting both simple elegance and hominess; on both counts, the restaurant delivers.
According to Mischa DeHart, who with her husband Jacob owns The Heritage, landing in Forest Park was "real serendipity," explaining "We were looking for a commercial investment property and found the building. At around the same time, I helped my friends find an amazing home in Berwyn. That friend happened to be Chef Sieger Bayer. He and his wife, Lauren, closed on their home, then we closed on 7403 Madison and started concepting The Heritage. Shortly thereafter, we had Chef Michael Spiewak on board. We started intensive tastings and consulting in what took a little over year until we were happy enough with all of our ideas, dining room, menu, dishes, glassware, to finally open. I've also really enjoyed working with the village of Forest Park, so it was a win when I found the property in a prime location."
The Heritage deals heavily in comfort food – flat iron steak, sole, crispy pork belly –prepared with thoughtful touches that bring a standard dish up a notch or so: for instance, the flat iron steak is accompanied by cold-smoked cauliflower, the sole with caper leaves (never had those before!), and the pork belly with Asian pears and caraway vinaigrette. What that means is that you can bring your most food-cautious friends to The Heritage, and they'll more than likely find something familiar that they like – and they might likely be introduced to something totally new that they also enjoy, thus expanding their concepts of deliciousness.
Just as dishes at The Heritage balance simplicity with I-didn't-expect-that ingredients, the space itself is well-designed, not overly fancy: sleek, somewhat idiosyncratic chairs swivel and the marble-topped tables suggest that you're in for more than just solid home-style food you might find at nearby (and also excellent, in its own way) Jimmy's. You'd also, of course, expect something more from Chefs Bayer (Leghorn, Formento's, Nellcote) and Spiewak (Lula, Old Town Social), who have worked at some outstanding Chicago restaurants and together promise to be one of Forest Park's more promising kitchen teams. There are specialty dinners on the horizon, and those are likey to let the chefs flex their culinary muscles beyond the confines of the regular menu.
Cocktails (all $11) are designed by Nick Kokonas (Longman & Eagle, Green River – both with outstanding beverage programs); his Black Park is similar to a Manhattan with bourbon and bitters, but he explains he was going for a "nuanced flavor profile incorporating maple and cardamom bitters; lemon peel gives the cocktail brightness and additional aromatics." His Sonder uses Amaro Montenegro, a digestif, mixed with lime juice and velvet falernum (a syrupy liqueur of almond, allspice, and lime) whose "bold flavors," he tells us, "would both compliment and also hold up to the amaro. To bring up the alcohol content and add a bit of spice, we add a small amount of high proof rye whiskey."
Last week, Elske was opened on Randolph by David and Anna Posey (Blackbird and Publican vets), and their menu reflects a trend toward relatively limited– or, if you prefer, "tightly curated" – offerings. The chefs at The Heritage are clearly focusing on perfecting a few very good items, rather than trying to offer a huge range of dining possibilities. The prices are mid-range: entrées average around $20 and each is enough to fill a belly (which, as the weather gets colder, seems more of a priority).
We tried the Parisian gnocchi with duck ($17), which unlike Italian gnocchi are made of pate a choux – a combo of butter, flour, cheese, eggs – also used to make eclairs and cream puffs. In Paris and at The Heritage, the pate is lightly poached, extruded though a pastry tube, cut into approximately 1 inch lengths, and then griddled until brown, giving each piece much more textural variation than the Italian version. "Vinegar and pickles (like the cherries in this dish) play a big part in our cooking," says Spiewak. "We incorporate acid in different ways to make the dish brighter (with higher acidity). This works well with duck, as well as other meats, that might seem rich, heavy or fatty."
The Pavlova ($7) is a classic Australian dessert, named after ballerina Anna Pavlova. Like the ballerina, it's very delicate and light, topped with crispy meringue, whipped cream and poached pears. "The texture of the dish is key," says Bayer. "The exterior crunch with the gooey center is a dish in itself. The poached pears and whipped cream help to round out the dish texturally. We take freeze-dried raspberries and grind them down with sugar to create the powder that we use to finish the dish." The Pavlova is a beautiful way to finish a meal at The Heritage.
It's likely that over the holiday season, you'll be going out for dinner a few times. The Heritage is a relaxed yet upscale place to eat, with comfort foods notched up by a culinary team that knows what they're doing and how to make you happy.