Looking for a festive, nourishing New Year’s Eve feast? This year, reserve a table at one of the most eco-friendly restaurants in America.
Uncommon Ground’s local and sustainable bonafides are indisputable. It’s ranked as Chicago’s greenest restaurant by DineGreen.com, has been awarded a 4 star Green Restaurant certification by Sustainabuild and has won the Governor’s Sustainability Award twice. It recycles its fry oil and uses solar panels to run its water heating system. All of its paper products are made from recycled materials. They offer a discount to patrons who bike to their premises. And that’s just a sample of Uncommon Ground’s numerous steps toward taking running green-minded business models to another level.
Uncommon Ground currently operates two locations. The original spot on Clark Street, surrounded by sidewalk planters full of green growing plants, has been serving the Lakeview neighborhood for 30 years; the one on Devon features a nationally renowned certified organic rooftop garden that provides produce for many of the restaurant’s dishes.
Uncommon Grounds is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas proper; they serve a special prix fixe menu on New Year’s Eve. When it comes to its holiday menu, co-owner Helen Cameron is careful to emphasize that it’s really business as usual in the kitchen. “That’s actually the mission of our restaurant,” she says “that year round, we source as much as we can locally.”
Meeting the goal to source locally can be a challenge in the middle of a Chicago winter. “In the early years, it was rather difficult to do that,” admits Cameron. But practice makes perfect, and she no longer has to turn to imported California produce to round out her winter offerings. Nowadays, “we write our menu in such a way that our ingredients are all within the season.”
The New Year’s Eve menu has yet to be announced, but diners can be assured that not only will the produce be local, but the meat will also be raised ethically and sustainably. “We’re real keen on the no hormones, no antibiotics, humanely raised,” says Cameron. “That’s real important to us; we won’t buy meat that wasn’t humanely raised.”
The dedication to local sourcing extends even to the bar offerings. Uncommon Grounds offers only US-produced wine and spirits—all the gin and vodka is domestic, and whiskey and bourbon can be obtained from fairly nearby. As for other libations, “if we’re importing beer, it’s from another state,” not another country. And even that may not last for long—Cameron and her husband Michael plan on opening a brewery at Uncommon Ground soon as well. Cameron makes concessions only when it comes to coffee, which isn’t grown commercially in the United States. Instead, she has it roasted locally and makes sure to buy organic beans from small farms that pay a fair wage to their workers. “No matter what I am buying, I am voting with my dollar in terms of the quality and the integrity of that particular product,” Cameron notes.
Uncommon Grounds serves what it calls “contemporary comfort cuisine.” Comfort, that is, with a twist: “Because we try to be Uncommon,” Cameron says, “we might take a standard regional dish but perhaps prepare it with our own Uncommon flair.”
Reservations are a must on New Year’s Eve, when the restaurant will also feature a scheduled musical guest. Past menus have included braised short ribs over creamy Parmesan polenta, vegetarian cassoulet, wild mushroom risotto cake with chicken confit and lemon-ginger cheesecake with cranberry glaze.
photo credit: Uncommon Ground