Chicago Sustainable Restaurant: Uncommon Ground

Most restaurants with a local food bent talk about “food miles”—the distance ingredients travel from their source to the restaurant kitchen. At Uncommon Ground in Chicago, the owners can talk in terms of footsteps. The restaurant grows some of its produce right above the kitchen in a rooftop farm on Devon Avenue.

Covering 640 square feet, the farm can’t supply all of Uncommon Ground’s produce needs, but it does produce over 800 pounds of produce all on its own. Sweet and hot peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, fresh bush beans, mustard greens, and various herbs all thrive in the raised rooftop beds. The farm includes several seed varieties included in Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, a program dedicated to preserving rare and endangered foodstuffs. The roof also houses a handful of beehives. The farm is certified organic and during the growing season it offers weekly public tours on Wednesdays for a $10 fee.

Read our article on urban rooftop farming.

“The Rooftop Farm at Uncommon Ground isn’t just about vegetables,” the restaurant’s website states. The garden offers summer internships to help give aspiring urban farmers some hands-on education. On occasion, Uncommon Ground even offers diners the chance to eat on the rooftop, offering a special family-style menu and a chance to pick your own salad.

The menu leans toward bistro-style comfort food classics such as meatloaf, steak frites and macaroni and cheese. Vegetarians will enjoy the chili, the quinoa burger or a vegetable ragout. On Fridays, Uncommon Ground holds a fish fry, a tradition around the Great Lakes region. In keeping with its vision as a community resource, Uncommon Ground offers both a kids’ menu and regular drink specials at the bar. Order their special cocktail and they’ll donate to a program that plants and preserves local orchards.

Uncommon Ground on Devon is actually the second location of this local chain. The first, on Clark, has been in business for over 20 years. The Clark Street location recently joined the urban agriculture movement with a sidewalk garden of its own.

The rooftop farm grabs the attention, but it’s hardly the only sustainable initiative Uncommon Ground has implemented. The restaurant donates used fryer oil to Loyola University’s biodiesel production program and it uses solar panels to heat its hot water. All of its paper products, from menus to toilet paper, utilize recycled fibers. It uses eco-friendly cleaning products and biodegradable to-go containers. They even offer customers who bike or walk to the restaurant a 10% discount.

As a result of all these efforts, in 2011 Uncommon Ground on Devon was named the Greenest Restaurant in America by the Green Restaurant Association. The Clark Street location came in second.

Both Chicago restaurants have a strong commitment to local community. Co-owners Helen and Michael Cameron hired local artists to adorn the restaurant and local craftspeople to install its seating. All of the table tops were locally crafted utilizing timber from fallen trees in Jackson Park. They patronize local suppliers as well as local farmers, and hired a local designer for their website needs. “Keeping our money in the local economy is very important to us,” Helen Cameron told Chicago Business. All of its contractors are listed with their contact information on the website. Local musicians perform most evenings and there’s a regular open mic night.

All in all, Uncommon Ground is simply a comfortable Chicago neighborhood joint—one where an ethos of sustainability is woven into every aspect. Imagine a world where every corner tavern had a rooftop garden and you’ll be picturing the world that Uncommon Ground hopes to comfortably inhabit someday soon.

Learn More

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food

Find a green certified restaurant near you

Visit the Uncommon Ground website

Learn about other restaurants that grow their own food

Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers

More Ethical Foods Restaurant & Chef Interviews

Project Green Fork

Project Green Fork In Memphis

Margot McNeeley, founder of Project Green Fork in Memphis, Tennessee, talks to EthicalFoods.com about the challenges of helping restaurants move toward sustainable practices. Read more

chef william dissen market place restaurant

Your Chef And Climate Change: William Dissen of Market Place Restaurant

In an interview with EthicalFoods.com, Chef Dissen discusses his efforts to source and promote local, sustainably caught seafood. Read more

outstanding in the field

Farm To Fork

Some restaurants are taking the next step in local, sustainable food by creating their own gardens and small farms. Whether their gardens contribute significantly to… Read more

sustainable sushi

Sustainable Seafood: Bamboo Sushi Eco Friendly Restaurant

The restaurant takes pride in its impeccably sourced fish. Bamboo Sushi works in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Marine Stewardship Council to… Read more

Local Sustainable Menu at Nick's Cove

Eating Local: Diners Weigh The Cost

Where does the cost of a meal intersect with the value of eating clean, sustainable food? Do we bring our values with us when we… Read more

Mouzon House by Elizabeth Pedinotti Haynes

Your Chef and Climate Change: Dianne Pedinotti of Mouzon House

Co-owner of Mouzon House, Dianne Pedinotti, talks with EthicalFoods.com about how her restaurant has been impacted by climate change and shares what it takes to… Read more

glass straw

Anti-straw Movement

Over 500 million plastic straws are used in the United States every day, that’s over 46,000 bus loads of straws a year. Be Straw Free,… Read more

Nick's Cove Bay Overlook credit Diana Gil Osorio

Sourcing Local: Nick’s Cove

Originally a fish shack and roadhouse, Nick’s underwent a major renovation in 2007, emerging as an elegant waterside restaurant featuring seasonal farm-to-table and sea-to-table California… Read more

Farm to Table Restaurants: Chef Daniel Corey of Luce San Francisco

Chef Daniel Corey talks to us about seasonal menus, Luce’s green certification and the trend toward sustainability in the restaurant industry. Long before San Francisco-based… Read more

Haven Sustainable Restaurant Houston

Sustainable Restaurants: Haven Houston

If you think of Texas as dry and dusty, Houston will surprise you. It’s hot, sure, but also humid, almost lushly so, thanks to its… Read more

Chef Aurelien Crosato

Interview With Chef Aurelien Crosato

Chef and owner of Soléna restaurant in Bordeaux, France, talks to EthicalFoods.com about local sourcing in Aquitaine and how this year’s weather is affecting his… Read more

sustainable restaurants colonie nyc

In The Walls: Reclaimed & Recycled Materials

Whether through the use of what would be considered industrial waste or bringing back a piece of history by using antique items, restaurants are finding… Read more