Oak Parker Jodi Fyfe's Paramount Events – a major Chicago catering operation – is located under the Lake Street El tracks; next door is Fyfe's new restaurant, Eden (1748 W. Lake), which has an attached greenhouse that ensures fresh produce year-round for some creative dishes.
Fyfe is a ball of fire (even when she's standing still, she seems to be moving), and I guess she has to be: Paramount events is a 30,000 square foot facility, with close to 80 full-time employees and almost 500 hundred part-timers. And now, this new restaurant.
"At Paramount Events," Fyfe told us, "we're known for serving delicious, restaurant-quality food for large amounts of guests at catered events. It was always our dream. The natural next step was to open a restaurant unique to Chicago."
The name Eden conjures visions of a lush and verdant natural paradise. I guessed that the restaurant's on-site greenhouse had something to do with the name choice. "You're right!" said Fyfe. "We selected the name as a way to reflect our commitment to using ingredients that are as fresh and local as possible. Most people don't realize that we actually utilize what we grow in our greenhouse in our dishes every day. With our current growing program, a multitude of herbs and greens will make the short journey from urban garden to plate all year round. It's a difference guests will be able to taste.
"At Eden, every item you see has a story and a purpose. We put just as much thought and love into this space as we did our food. Many of the items come from small local business and artists – we wanted to create a space that was bright and unique. When guests visit Eden, they'll find a welcoming space that's full of energy and knowledgeable staff ready to talk food, wine and cocktails."
Two of Fyfe's menu favorites are also favorites of mine: Umami Doughnuts and Portuguese Spiced Chicken, both prepared under the guidance of Fyfe's husband, Executive Chef Devon Quinn.
- Umami Doughnuts are like spherical doughnut holes, filled with beef strip loin, held in place on the plate with tomato sauce, accompanied by raclette cheese dip and sprinkled with flowers and herbs from the on-site greenhouse. When I sampled the Umami Doughnuts, my first thought was that they were the love children of arancini (little fried Italian balls, frequently filled with cheese and meat and dressed with tomato sauce) and the Luther Burger (bacon cheeseburger on a Krispy Kreme donut). But maybe that's too crude a description for these delicate golf-ball sized spheres, which benefit greatly from having a few raw herbs sprinkled over the top: you don't need to add a lot of fresh herbs to make a dish pop with fresh flavor. These little pastries are perfect accompaniment to cocktails at the bar.
- Portuguese Spiced Chicken was a dish I had to try. In Chicago, we are very Portuguese-deprived: you might see a Portuguese dish on a menu now and again, but there are no Portuguese restaurants. This chicken dish at Eden is like an elevated version of what you might find at Oak Park's Nando's Piri-Piri: the chicken is very lightly spiced, and at Eden, dressed in nasturtium greens and other greens from the greenhouse, as well as gribenes, cracklings that you get when rendering chicken fat for schmaltz.
Click through pix, above, of these dishes.
I had to ask about Eden's location under the Lake Street El, which is perhaps a little too edgy for some. Fyfe believes it's not as edgy as all that, explaining "While the West Lake District is up and coming, it's really not all that far off the beaten path. There are many businesses, breweries and more in the area, plus, the United Center is just a few blocks away. Guests can also take advantage of our complimentary parking lot. We feel that people will travel for good food."
With Honey's a little further east on Lake, one has to wonder if this part of Lake Street – now apparently designated the West Lake District -- might not be an up-and-coming dining zone. The nearby and now ultra-hot Randolph St. corridor was once kind of beat-up and forbidding, and although this area of Lake Street's expansion (at least to the south) is limited by a phalanx of public housing, there's lots of potential for developing a new restaurant row, which I believe is going to happen.
Like Honey's, Eden is worth the trip: less than half-an-hour on the Green Line to Ashland and then walk about a quarter-mile west.