I am not a fan of suicide, but if I could crawl into the chocolate churro souffle at Regards to Edith I would joyfully eat myself to death. With no regrets, I’d happily gaze down on the runner who snatches the plate away, delivering my remains to the dishwasher, who then blasts what’s left of me down the drain with a howitzer of hot steaming water. But more about this outstanding dessert later.
Heisler Hospitality’s 12th joint is on the first floor of the erstwhile Cold Storage building, now the home of Google’s Chicago HQ. According to the restaurant’s backstory, the mysterious Edith in question is the addressee on an old photograph of Chicago heavyweight boxer Kingfish Levinsky, which would’ve been cool to see blown up and hung on the wall somewhere. It’s the wish of every dreamer in town right now to open a restaurant in the Fulton Market District, a neighborhood so popular it’s killing its own rapidly diminishing industrial charm.
At Regards to Edith raw brick walls and a pitch-black exposed ceiling are the only things remotely evocative of the space’s industrial history. Add to those a few towering green plants and from certain angles Regards to Edith feels a bit like a fern bar. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
On the other hand, the menu, developed by Jared Wentworth (who’s since left the company), nods toward a rougher Chicago. As executed by his successor, former chef de cuisine Eric Michael, it features gussied-up makeovers of classic hometown foods. Some of these are listed under a category called Brown Paper, presumably because you’re so fancy you can only eat them with your head inside a bag. A shaved prime-rib sandwich wearing a thin Italian-beef disguise features thickly sliced (relative to real Italian beef) cow showered with uniformly diced, delicately oiled giardiniera (a variant that previously could not have existed in this dimension), and a small pitcher of Italian beef jus, to apply to your own specific taste. It’s a perfectly good beef sandwich, but I’m glad the decision was made not to call it an Italian beef (especially at $19).
There’s also a pizza puff on the menu. Ew, right? Hold on now, this one is nothing like those previously frozen ticking time bombs of molten processed cheese. The thin, flaky pastry shimmers with fat, but it’s crackly and light and barely contains a core of nearly liquid hot burrata. An application of pepperoni oil—simply diced, cured sausage and oregano suspended in olive and Calabrian chile oils—spells true redemption for this wretched snack. On the side of a perfunctory cheeseburger there are fluffy, pale golden fries draped in a light cheddar Mornay sauce and scattered with pickled shishito, cayenne, and Calabrian chile peppers (the fries come with the beef sandwich too).
A few other Chicago referents are scattered around the menu as well, among them a roasted half chicken with tiny potatoes, carrots, and a few coins of preserved lemon—but without peas and a more serious application of lemon and oregano, which makes calling it chicken Vesuvio revisionist history. Four butterflied shrimp jacketed in an arresting green-colored herbal breading are certainly greasy enough for de jonghe, but look as if they sprang from the mind of Dr. Seuss. Less locally focused, an otherwise unobjectionable matzo ball soup advertised with shaved black truffle and foie gras schmaltz bears none of the former’s hallmark aroma or the latter’s livery richness.
Other less thematic dishes excel on their own merits. Serviceably thin potato pierogi on a pool of smoked creme fraiche are bedecked with jewellike salmon roe and grated cured egg yolk. Pity the poor chef de partie who peels the grapes for a salad of red leaf lettuce, shaved apples, and creamy lavenderand-espresso-rubbed cheese, its overall sweetness cut with pumpkin-seed vinaigrette. Brilliant green arugula-infused pappardelle coil under a bolognese of mushrooms and root vegetables. A simple salmon fillet is engulfed by an nduja-fueled bouillabaise teeming with clams, mussels, and shrimp. A tiny serving of pork-cheek pot roast melts amid baby carrots, onions, and mushrooms.
It’s clear that the seasonal rather than the thematic elements on this menu work the best, and while there are plenty of likable dishes in addition to a few that ought to be retired early, nothing really hits it out of the park until it’s time for dessert. Pastry chef Shawn Anderson-Calix’s fanciful options include a butternut hand pie with carbonated grapes, a trifle with moonshine-compressed apples, and a brownie sundae with herbaceous chocolate-and-fernet ice cream. But it’s the aforementioned churro souffle that seems likely to become the signature of Regards to Edith. An item not listed on the print menu that requires a good 20 minutes to grace the table, it’s the kitchen’s greatest weapon, a ramekin topped with a cinnamon sugar-dusted crust that when hit by a steaming stream of hot dark-chocolate sauce implodes into a warm, sweet bog of queso fresco and cream cheese that beckons like it’s alive.
The beverage program, by former Publican cicerone Michael McAvena, features a few treasures like the wonderfully funky and dry local Prima farmhouse cider, and cocktails like the Deli Counter Fish, vegetal with shaved celery and bison-grass vodka along with a bitter kiss of Malort.
I’m betting Regards to Edith will do a whole lot better in this spot than Smack Shack, the Minneapolis-based lobster pot that preceded it. That’s assured if the weaker entries on the menu catch up to the stronger ones. v