While the shifty weather is determined to prove otherwise, we need look no further than Chicago's farmer's markets, brimming with fresh produce and organic treats, for proof that summer is indeed in full swing. Among the best of this short-lived season's goods are all of its juicy berries, plump and ready to be picked. Of course, our favorites are the ones that have already been plucked and artfully prepared at these local restaurants.
M. Henry: Blackberry Bliss Cakes
M. Henry's menu claims that "bliss such as this, needs to be shared." It's a nice thought, but we think these fluffy hotcakes are too good to give up half, or even a quarter. Sparing a few bites might be acceptable. The blackberry bliss cakes get a hearty layer of vanilla mascarpone cream and fresh berries. After that, they're topped off with a brown-sugar-and-oat crust, adding a nice, crisp texture to the fluffy breakfast treat ($8.75).
Karma: Creme Brulee with Fresh Berries
Skip the main fare and head straight for the dessert at this upscale suburban restaurant. The sugar-fueled menu lists plenty of tempting options, but Karma's creme brulee, with sweet ginger custard, caramelized sugar and fresh berries is the ideal dish for that fruity fix, $8. To make it better, the berries have been macerated (read: soaked) in star anise, giving them a licorice-like flavor. Plopped alongside a crisp thin vanilla biscuit, the fresh fruit is more than just a lovely little garnish. Karma's dessert menu also suggests wines for pairing with your sweet selections.
Haussmann Brasserie: Panna Cotta with Strawberry Compote
You can also satisfy your sweet tooth at Haussmann Brasserie in Northfield with a berry-drizzled panna cotta. This contemporary French restaurant serves its cooked cream treat in a glass jar for an elegant presentation. To finish, it all gets topped off with a St. Germain and fresh strawberry compote, $8.
MORE: Assorted Berry Cupcakes
There's something about berries that inspires sugary concoctions, and the cupcakes at MORE (opening July 28) are no exception. But the crew at this bakery gets crafty with its berry-filled treats by throwing in a few savory staples like peppercorns, curry and wild rice. The black peppercorn and strawberry cupcake, for one, takes a stab at sugar with micro purple basil and a bittersweet balsamic-vinegar frosting. Not even the mighty sugar cane itself could challenge Madra's curry cupcake, layered with mixed berry jam, slathered with goat cheese and yogurt frosting and garnished with a pretty puffed wild rice.
Vella Cafe: Smoked Turkey Panino with Lingonberries
If you must keep your sugar in your baked goods and your savories between bread, head over to Vella. This Logan Square cafe has mastered the art of sweet sandwiches with its smoked turkey panino. In addition to a helping of cheddar cheese, the thin slices get a dose of lingonberries ($7.50). This acidic fruit is red in color and tastes similar to cranberries, making it an excellent choice with turkey.
TRU: Beef Tartare with Raspberry
While we're at it, let's tack on TRU to the few that dare to pair berries with meat. And not just any old meat, but a gourmet prime beef tartare with red pepper, raspberry and zucchini. This fancy little appetizer is available on the restaurant's three-course prix fixe menu. If the thought of throwing down almost $95 on dinner makes you shudder, you can always opt for the tartare a la carte.
Blackbird: Nettle Soup with Strawberries
Another berry-inspired appetizer can be found at the West Loop's famed Blackbird. The restaurant's seasonal dinner menu offers a chilled spring nettle soup with peeky toe crab, local strawberries and pumpkin seeds, $11. The soup is served chilled and is a great way to whet your appetite before moving onto a main course of Tasmanian sea trout. This seared fish is prepared with cherry molasses and served up with baby turnips, forbidden black rice and salad burnet ($33).