Chicago Restaurant Scene – Ema, Grassroots

The Chicago restaurant scene has exploded over the last decade with many different types of options from fine dining to fast-casual places with specialty shops for poké and new food halls.  At times, it can be overwhelming to choose where to eat.  Today I want to talk about two tasty new additions to the Windy City: Ema and Grassroots.



If you’re in the mood for some fresh, Mediterranean food, head to Ema in the River North neighborhood.  It’s located inside the Hyatt Place hotel on the corner of Illinois and Clark.  Ema offers small plates and spreads.  On my first visit here, I enjoyed a

vegan sweet potato soup with ginger and turmeric.    Soup is my favorite food group and I could eat it every day.  I would want a steaming hot bowl of soup for my “last meal.”  Ema did a great job at blending the sweet potato to just the right consistency and the spices were on point, too.  The added toasted sesame seeds and crisp shallots topped it all off.




Chicago restaurant scene Ema

Sweet potato soup with ginger and turmeric




Whenever there is an opportunity to have fresh fish on a menu, I order it.  Since swordfish is king in Mediterranean cuisine, it was no surprise to me that Ema features it on their menu.  The charred swordfish kebab with cucumber, fennel, red onion, blood orange, lemongrass, and frisee was so good, I considered licking the plate.  Thankfully, my upbringing stopped me from embarrassing myself.  The fish was sweet and just the right amount of smoky from grilling.  The vegetables were wonderfully crunchy and even though I strongly believe that frisee is a useless and disappointing green, Ema got it right here.  Order this dish!




Chicago restaurant scene Ema

Swordfish kebab at Ema in Chicago



Chef CJ Jacobson incorporates a seasonal, California approach to cooking in his rustic, Meditteranean dishes at Ema.  The freshness really shines through here.


74 Illinois Ave – Two blocks west and one block south of the Grand ‘L’ stop on the CTA Red Line.




Southport Corridor is a quaint stretch in the Lakeview neighborhood and Grassroots is a farm-to-table eatery on the Chicago restaurant scene.  It’s owned and run by the owners of the now-defunct and much-beloved Deleece.  Right from the start, I was impressed with the coffee service.  Grassroots is partnered with Gaslight, a local coffee roaster.  Gaslight’s coffee beans are strong but smooth.  I love the fact that Grassroots only offers coffee and not a list of espresso drinks like cappuccino and lattes.  Honestly, all a restaurant needs, especially for brunch, is strong, hot coffee (and tea).  If they cannot get that right, they should close their doors.  Grassroots understands this and delivers the goods!  




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots Eatery

Almond marzipan croissant




I was very impressed with the pastry chef at Grassroots.  My fellow bloggers and I were treated to almond-marzipan croissants which were fantastic.  They were warm, flaky and creamy.  The mini beignets were equally delicious.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots restaurant

Warm beignets



At first, I was content with my coffee but I did indulge in a pineapple Mimosa before I left Grassroots.  It is not every day you see this twist on that classic brunch beverage.  Very nice!




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots Southport Corridor

Pineapple Mimosa




Next, our hosts at Grassroots treated us to a lovely breakfast pizza topped with a runny egg which we quickly inhaled.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots

Breakfast pizza



Check out my blog post about where to eat in Lakeview for more on the Chicago restaurant scene.



A traditional breakfast meal in Italy is eggs in purgatory or shakshuka.  Grassroots prepared a zesty version of this classic dish of poached eggs in a zesty tomato sauce, mozarella and fresh herbs, along with a perfectly toasted English muffin.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots shakshuka




Not many places on the Chicago restaurant scene offer a variety of savory items on their brunch menus.  It was refreshing to see tuna tacos with Asian slaw and one of the best mac ‘n cheese dishes I’ve ever had on Grassroot’s menu.  I definitely have more of a savory tooth than a sweet tooth and it’s nice to have more options than pancakes, waffles, and omelets on a brunch menu.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots Chicago tacos

tuna tacos at Grassroots and mac ‘n cheese



Raise your hand if you’re a fan of chicken ‘n waffles!  Grassroots did a decent job of this dish.  I enjoyed the orange-Siracha, maple dipping sauce.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots Eatery on Southport

Chicken ‘n Waffles



Since most of the dishes we ordered were on the heavier side, I decided to balance things out with a salad of roasted beets, chard, toasted walnuts, ricotta, mint and citrus dressing.  I topped it off with some medium-rare salmon.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots




I love chilaquiles and Grassroots was smart enough to include a version of it on their brunch menu.  Chilaquiles is made with corn tortillas, easy-over eggs, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo.  You can add chorizo for more spice and protein.  Grassroots did a nice job with the spices in this dish.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots in Lakeview





I’m really looking forward to returning to Grassroots to try their dinner menu.  This Feeding Off The Rails blog is dedicated to helping you find all the best food and drink using mass transit.  Riding local trains and buses to explore the Chicago restaurant scene is easy and it helps reduce the city’s carbon footprint by keeping cars off the road and reducing pollution.  I am so happy that Grassroots is doing its part to lower its own carbon footprint by sourcing their ingredients locally and growing its own garden.




Chicago restaurant scene Grassroots

Brunch at Grassroots in Chicago



Planning on being in Chicago for just a couple of days?  Check out my blog series, Eating Chicago in 2 Days.


In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA trains and buses to Ema and Grassroots.  Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking.  Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!