In the old coal-fired powerhouse in front of the Metra train depot on Clinton Street, the industry of yesteryear has given way to today's fresh, local food (albeit with occasional rumblings from the passing trains).
Award-winning chefs and co-owners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris borrowed the same concept from their suburban Northbrook restaurant, Prairie Grass Cafe — "approachable food that's seasonal and local," says Stegner, who helped found Chicago's Green City Market.
Prairie Fire's homemade items include hand-crafted sausages, salad dressings, ice creams and desserts. The prices make the restaurant accessible to neighborhood locals, but you'd be surprised how much care and labor goes into preparing some of the meats.
The tallgrass beef slow braised BBQ brisket, for example, cooks all night before it shares your plate with a Yukon Gold potato puree and mirepoix of vegetables, including celery and beets ($20). Another signature of Stegner and Bumbaris' Northbrook location is the spicy goat grilled sausage flavored with winter leeks, lemon-oregano potatoes and Capriole Farm goat cheese ($18). Stegner's favorite is the Mint Creek Farms handcrafted lamb sausage, with a hint of fennel sweetness ($18). Prairie Fire also serves seafood, some of it from a sustainable fishery in North Carolina that occasionally sends Stegner lesser-known species like triggerfish or abandoned rudderfish in order to take pressure off the local populations of halibut and bass.
Before entering Prairie Fire, you'll smell sweet wafts from the Blommers chocolate factory two blocks away. But the desserts inside the restaurant ($7.50) are even better. The pies are made fresh every day, sometimes by Steger's mom. And you can't go wrong with the double chocolate or the baked pear in almond cake.
Mastery happens behind the bar too. Every Tuesday is guest bartender night, and drinks are concocted to match the personality of the particular guest. During my visit, the marketing director for Orbitz was mixing Seedling Farm crushed blueberries with vodka, to match the color of her company’s logo.
Average cost: $21-$30
Centerstage Reviewer: Jacob Wheeler