It’s a good thing I didn’t reread Mike Sula’s review of River Roast before my boyfriend and I headed there for his birthday dinner (his choice). The gimmick behind the sprawling Levy Restaurant is family-style dinners centered on a big hunk o’ beef, fish, or poultry, and Sula found the last two “the most disappointing things on the menu”—the chicken especially: 

its legs, blackened by flame, are dry and pull apart like jerky, while the breast meat is devoid of any sort of moisture to remind you that it was once a living being. At $39, it’s a galling thing to do to a bird.

We didn’t go in with any preconceptions, apart from knowing that Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Bar Toma, etc) and John Hogan (the former Keefer’s) are essentially superchefs. And so the birthday boy went with the chicken, which is, yes, $39—but turned out to be a lot more than dinner for two.

The chicken comes with potatoes too.Credit: @riverroastchi via Twitter

The bird comes to the table on a cart, propped upright on a spit, where it is carved by one of the (all-male) servers. Ours was neither blackened nor dry—but it also left us with more than half of a chicken carcass. 

So here’s the tip: be sure to get a doggy bag and snag that bird. With your leftovers you’ll find a recipe for soup from chef John Hogan himself.

Simple enough, right?

Credit: Kate Schmidt

I used Lundberg wild rice blend and toward the end threw in some leftover spinach.

Credit: Kate Schmidt

But it didn’t stop there. I reserved a leg and a thigh in a ziplock bag in the fridge, and the next weekend was able to use some past-their-prime vegetables and a couple pantry staples to make another large pot of soup, this time minestrone.

As departing longtime New York Times food guru Mark Bittman advises, I doctored some store-bought chicken stock, using the bones along with some celery, carrots, half a wrinkled red pepper, and half an onion in wedges. Meanwhile in the pot, heat plenty of olive oil and add your basic mirepoix again—onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, red pepper. Then in with the doctored chicken stock, strained, then a large can of chopped tomatoes, a rind of Parmesan, a can of kidney beans and a can of chickpeas (both rinsed and drained), and some leftover raw broccoli florets (zucchini and green beans are more traditional). Then some whole Tellicherry black peppercorns (even the inexpensive kind will bloom when simmered in the soup, and you can eat them or not).

Credit: Kate Schmidt

I cooked the pasta separately, then added it to individual bowls for serving.

Credit: Kate Schmidt

I’ve vowed to stop wasting food, and three weeks later I’m still dining off that chicken.

River Roast, 315 N. LaSalle, 312-822-0100,