“You will love this place.” “You’re going to want to order everything on the menu.” “Nic, I’m telling you, you can already mark this as one of your favorite restaurants in Chicago.”
My boyfriend had been talking up Little Goat in Chicago, Illinois for months before I got to try it. The diner is owned by Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef‘s fourth season, and it serves up top-notch comfort foods with a twist. We crammed in three (3!) visits to Little Goat during our five-day trip to Chicago, because our experiences were just that good.
First let me say that Izard has done an exceptional job of branding herself as the girl who cooks up some seriously snazzy goat. Kudos to her PR agency. Her flagship restaurant, Girl and the Goat, was met with acclaim. Soon afterward and just across the street, she opened the casual Little Goat diner with its attached Little Goat Bread Shop. Her logo is a super-cute line drawing of a goat. There is a rotating goat thingy above the diner. The paper napkin rings feature—wait for it—a LITTLE GOAT. The website is an interactive cartoon that makes me wish I had drawn it. The whole project is the perfect balance of cool and cute and “why don’t all restaurants do this?!”
Visit 1 of 3. Wednesday, September 25, 2013.
My boyfriend and I arrived at Girl and the Goat, foolishly thinking we would be able to walk in at 5pm. Ha! Shame on us. Faced with an hour’s wait, we decided to pre-game with milkshakes across the street.
My boyfriend went with the chocolate malt shake, because chocolate, duh. I snagged me a sip when I realized that I couldn’t recall ever tasting malt, but something about the sugary malt nevertheless packed a nostalgic flavor. Bizarre but delicious.
I kicked off my love for Little Goat with the cookie shake: vanilla ice cream with chunks of double-chocolate cookies and drizzled with caramel. When it arrived, I worried unnecessarily if I would be able to finish the entire shake, knowing I needed to eat an entire dinner across the street an hour later. But this shake was amazing. I made do with sipping through the straw for a while, and then I set aside my inhibitions and dove in with one of those fancy diner spoons.
Afterward we returned back across the street to Girl and the Goat. That’s another story, but I will say the highlight was a “peanut butter and jelly” donut dessert with peanut butter ice cream, grape ice cream, little donut holes crusted with sugar, and Concord grapes.
Visit 2 of 3. Saturday, September 28, 2013.
I rarely get to see my extended family, because my mother’s side lives west of the Great Lakes and my father’s lives east of the Atlantic. But my trip to Chicago meant that I got to visit a cousin, aunt, and uncle from my mother’s side. My aunt and uncle regaled me with an amazing lunch at Little Goat, during which they divulged all kinds of awesome stories about my mother. (Mom, if you’re reading this, remind me that we should talk about getting me a sports car.)
We arrived during the lunch rush and had to wait about thirty minutes for a table outside. Luckily the balmy weather lent itself to al fresco dining, and thankfully, I hadn’t missed breakfast because Little Goat does breakfast the way it should be done: all day long.
My boyfriend invents nonsensical rules about food. No pancakes after 11 am; eating fish before noon is uncivilized; “ice cream isn’t dinner.” Pssh! If I’d listened to his tomfoolery, I never would have tried what became one of my favorite breakfasts ever: Little Goat’s Elvis waffles, with banana, bacon, “peanut butter butter,” and bacon maple syrup. I repeat. Real. Maple. Syrup.
People ask if there’s anything I won’t eat. Frog, grasshoppers, a severed half of a pigeon’s head? I am bold and daring. But fake maple syrup is a deal-breaker. I don’t object if the price of my waffles inflates from $7 to $11, or if a restaurant adds a separate $4 charge for a little pitcher of real maple syrup. But when the only available option is a flavorless glucose that paints a hazy memory of maple if my taste buds are feeling nostalgic, then my french toast is automatically capped at an overall “C” even if all the other individual elements would earn “A”s.
I give Little Goat is an A+++ across the board for breakfast. My next at-home breakfast project will be to recreate these Elvis waffles as best I can. If that doesn’t work out, I will begin saving up for plane tickets. Imagine the best peanut butter you’ve ever tasted, then crank the creaminess up to eleven. Silky, heavenly, melt-in-your-mouth peanut cream like words can’t even describe. The waffles were perfectly cooked. The bananas were fresh. The real maple syrup, of course, was everything that maple syrup should be.
But as enamored as I was by my Elvis waffles, the awesome food didn’t end there. My aunt ordered the shrimp and cheesy grits…
…and the mac-and-cheese side dish. The side dishes come “family style”—easily large enough to share, which means that I got to snag a bite of my aunt’s mac and cheese. Very creamy, very simple. I like when chefs show that they can master simple comfort food right alongside complicated dishes. (Keep reading and you’ll understand what I mean!)
Meanwhile my uncle was foreshadowing what I’d choose as my dinner on the following evening, with a burger. He opted for the mushroom burger: shittake & beach mushrooms, pickled peppers and onion, with cheese sauce on a potato bun.
My aunt and uncle enjoyed their food and were happy with Little Goat, even despite the wait and unexpected outdoor dining. And truth be told, I would have loved the meal even if the food had been unremarkable, because my aunt and uncle are pretty cool people. (Not to mention the fact that I learned all kinds of things about my mother that I didn’t know. Next time I’m in London, I have resolved to try the same tactic with my dad’s side of the family.)
Visit 3 of 3. Sunday, September 29, 2013. This was to be our last meal in Chicago. We had a flight leaving four hours later; but more to the point, this trip had been for the final class of my boyfriend’s postgraduate program, and now that he was finished we planned to use our travel funds visiting other cities. For at least awhile, we were saying goodbye to Chicago.
And on that note, the only reason I didn’t order the Elvis waffles again is that I knew I wanted to write this blog post and I wanted to include one more dish. But to its credit, the “Goat Almighty” burger sounded impressive indeed. A “goat burger” topped with braised beef, barbecue pork, pickled jalapeños, salsa verde, onion rings, and cheddar. Three kinds of meats! My favorite burger-topping cheese! And random green stuff, allowing me to pretend the entire dish is healthy! Sold: one “Goat Almighty” burger, to the hungry blonde food blogger with the obnoxiously large camera.
The burger arrived all splendid and stage-stealing and unapologetically tall. It was the signature Chicago skyscraper burger. (Isn’t “skyscraper” a wonderful word?) So yes, ultimately my agonizing decision to forgo the Elvis waffles in favor of a new dish paid off. The Goat Almighty burger was fantastic. If I were to return to Little Goat and repeat a dish, I would be hard-pressed to choose between the two.
My boyfriend ordered the fried chicken. He’d had it before and raved about it via text message, so I was curious to see it and then distract him long enough to steal a bite.
He makes his own fried chicken, and he’s picky about it in restaurants. It’s one of those comfort foods that he loves but only when it’s done exceptionally well. And interestingly, his two favorites are both served at restaurants owned by Top Chef contestants: Little Goat, and Sweet Cheeks Q in Boston, owned by Tiffani Faison. Fried chicken should have just the right crunch to its crust and just enough moisture inside; the pieces should be small enough to fry properly but also plentiful; and most importantly, there has to be a breast. Little Goat delivered on all counts.
And dessert? Dessert was a spectacle to rival even the skyscrapertastic burger. I present the “Cheez-It” sundae: one scoop Cheez-It ice cream, two scoops strawberry ice cream, drizzled with a peanut butter squiggle and topped off with chocolate-covered Cheez-Its.
Our waiter described this is a “very Stephanie Izard dessert.” I’ll go with that, simply because I couldn’t come up with a better explanation. What on Earth would prompt a sane person to put Cheez-Its in a dessert, never mind match them with strawberry, chocolate, and peanut butter? (And what’s delaying Izard from opening a restaurant in Boston?!) I have no answers to my questions but I had one amazing dessert in my belly, so it’s a win.
For a last meal in Chicago, I couldn’t have been happier with my experience at Little Goat. It also makes me philosophical. I think about all the places I traveled when I was younger, before getting into food, and I wonder how different my memories would be if I had placed dining front and center like I do now.
Chicago’s food scene is pretty crazy. Maybe I will come out to Chicago once I finish my degree at Northeastern. Visit my mother’s side of the family regularly, learn the names of all of Chicago’s skyscrapers, hire a personal assistant to fetch me treats from Donut Vault every morning, die of a heart attack from gorging on Little Goat’s Elvis waffles. Dream big.
INFORMATION as of January 2014
Address & Phone
820 W Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607