Seasonal Spotlight: Brussels Sprouts

January 23, 2013 at 11:30 am

This time of year, many people succumb to a condition called Brussels Sprouts Fatigue, a type of burnout that results from overexposure to Brussels sprouts dishes over the course of several months. Like pumpkin, sprouts are around for such a long time that we run the risk of hating them by the time winter sinks its claws. The best antidote to such a malady? Unique Brussels sprouts dishes that manage to impress, even after months of apathy.

River North’s shiny new Tortoise Club transcends diners to a time of glitz and glamor, thanks to the buttoned up waiters, wild pheasant pie, and aristocratic atmosphere. Chef Gray McNally sources ingredients from local farmers and foragers, and promises a fresh take on classic American cuisine, but I imagine that F. Scott Fitzgerald would be right at home eating shaved Brussels sprouts in honey-apple vinaigrette with red oak lettuce and almonds.

A stone’s throw from Tortoise Club, sprouts take on sweet, sour, and smokey flavors at Untitled. One of Chicago’s most clandestine restaurants, Untitled is an homage to Prohibition Era speakeasies and supper clubs, but with a little more creativity on the food front, with dishes such as wild boar salami, chocolate-bourbon duck, and caramel-bacon popcorn. Chef Joseph Heppe is another purporter of locality and seasonality when it comes to menu sourcing, and though the menu states it is meant for sharing, the only thing you’ll be sharing with your table mates if they attempt to eat some of your roasted Brussels sprouts with Navel orange sweet ‘n’ sour and smoked pecans is a vicious glare.

Elsewhere in River North, which I am nicknaming Brussels Sprouts Square, the vegetable takes different turns at The Boarding House, Alpana Singh’s new palace of wine and food. The chef, Christian Gosselin, was raised on a family farm in a village in Quebec, and he brings those farm life mentalities to his work in the kitchen. The massive dining room menu is in full-on winter mode right now, and nothing screams of the season more than Gosselin’s Brussels sprouts and apple slaw, which he serves with a double bone-in pork chop, cheddar cheese grits and cippolini onions. Basically, it’s an edible hug. Sprouts are also available as a side, braised in bacon and pine nuts.

At smokin’ hot La Sirena Clandestina, chef/owner John Manion infuses South American flavor into heartland ingredients by combining shaved Brussels sprouts with almonds, charred radicchio, olive oil and Manchego cheese. Because nothing bad can come from the thought, “let’s put cheese on it.”

You can’t go wrong with Brussels sprouts pizza, now can you? No, you can not. At Balena, chef Chris Pandel flecks one of his pies with Brussels sprouts, pancetta, Pecorino and red onion. The chef has already proven his eager commitment to local sourcing and sustainable ingredients via his work at sister restaurant The Bristol, and Balena is no different.

Tasso ham, roasted parsnips and creamy chestnut vinaigrette sounds more like a savory sundae than a supporting cast to Brussels sprouts, but this is what you’ll find at Reno, Logan Square’s vibrant new cafe-by-day, Italian restaurant-by-night. Chef John Anderes has proven his chops at avec, where he worked as sous chef before opening Telegraph as executive chef, and a little while later, Reno.