Girl and the Goat
Stephanie Izard is back. Chicago food will (hopefully) never be the same.
There are cities in this country where the modern restaurant’s purpose is to take you somewhere else: London via a gastropub, North Carolina via a smoke shack. Restaurants become the tool of escapism.
Chicagoans mostly have the opposite experience. In our buzziest contemporary American spots, a shared aesthetic has emerged, and it’s not American food—it’s Chicago food. Grubby and pubby at its base, Chicago cuisine is often accompanied by beer, and it venerates miscellaneous cuts of meat from an animal’s organs or forehead. It’s deceptively pricey (all those small plates add up). It claims European influences (but it’s really inspired by the Midwest). There are vegetables in Contemporary Chicago Cuisine, but they’re tossed with cheese or lard. And desserts— ironically, they’re afterthoughts: a waffle here, a shortbread cookie there. CCC is a masculine—no, a machismo—way of eating, and men eat meat. Dessert is for Nellies.
Eating this food is the opposite of a transporting experience. You don’t escape Chicago at these restaurants. You fall deeper into it.
The “roasted pig face” at Girl and the Goat is classic CCC. Two patties, looking like something thawed from a Jimmy Dean box, formed from the meat of a pig’s jowls and chin. Some fried potato sticks, almost identical to Potato Stix, are strewn around the plate. There’s a fried egg on top, of course, because, though not quite unique to CCC, fried eggs are the cuisine’s default garnish. Unpleasantly charred on the outside, the inside of the patties reveal oily chunks of pork adhered together with more fat, which both the egg and potato sticks are helpless to offset. One bite and it was unmistakably Chicago—CCC at its most irritating and insipid.
Thankfully, it was a complete anomaly. Chef Stephanie Izard may have been reared in Chicago cuisine, but it wasn’t under the tutelage of the much-hyped meat-grinder chefs of the day. Instead, she sports the unmistakable mark of Shawn McClain. She’s gone on record as having a love for fish over all other proteins, and the affection she lavishes on vegetables is matched only by Green Zebra. By incorporating dishes like that pig face, or the whipped fat back (an ethereal concoction that’s spread on flaky biscuits and topped with whiskey-soaked onions), Izard is throwing bones to the city’s chef community. Or maybe it’s more earnest—maybe some of the city’s trends have wormed their way into her operating system. Either way, her food at Girl and the Goat makes one thing very clear: She is not working within CCC’s framework so much as she is elevating it, moving it forward.