Prairie Fire is an excellent restaurant operated by two-time James Beard award-winner Sarah Stegner and her co-chef George Bumbaris. Prairie Fire is just down the Green Line from Oak Park; it’s practically in the neighborhood. Get on the El at Harlem, Ridgeland or Austin, get off at Clinton, walk a few hundred feet, and buy yourself a glass of wine with the money you save on gas and parking.

Drawing heavily upon locally sourced food and high-quality ingredients like hormone-free, grass-fed Tallgrass beef, and focusing exclusively on seafood that’s sustainable, the kitchen of Stegner and Bumbaris has impressed me greatly during the three visits I’ve made to Prairie Fire in the past year.

The quality of their ingredients, and the thoughtfulness of ingredient selection, is evident in the mussels, perfectly prepared and delicately dressed with pepper, onion and herbs. These mussels, one of the fruits of the sea that are almost always sustainably raised and harvest, were sensitively seasoned and chilled, a beautiful summer starter.

Spring radishes (grown in Stegner’s own garden) with whipped butter are decorated with small, spiky minarets of lavender. This is a perfect example of what I appreciate about Prairie Fire’s food: tiny touches that take a relatively basic dish and elevate it to excellence.

I was very impressed with their White Striped Bass with Spring Minestrone, a light broth of carrot and peas and other vegetables, a small ravioli of pesto, topped with shaved cheese. This was one of those preparations that looks so simple and yet has very “deep” flavor that reveals its dimensions with every bite. It’s food that makes you think about how delicious it is.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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