TWO Packs a One-Two Punch of Local Midwestern Flavor

June 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm

On a quiet stretch of Grand Avenue in West Town, in an area redolent with homey Italian food, TWO stands out as a beacon of seasonal Midwestern cuisine. While the rest of the ‘hood transports customers to the land of meatballs and sass, TWO celebrates the Midwest in all its glory, from reclaimed materials to a staunchly local menu.

The name is a double entendre of sorts, representing the restaurant’s proclivity for reclaimed wares and the fact that it’s the owners’ second restaurant, their first being Zak’s Place in Hinsdale. Upon entry, the space immediately smacks of Midwestern comfort. Bowling alleys, school chairs, barnyard water faucets, and gigantic whisks-turned-lighting fixtures are just a few of the refurbished items sourced from throughout the Midwest to bolster a cozy sense of locality. It all sets an apt stage for the rigorously local meal to follow.

TWO sources fastidiously from local farms, constantly changing their menu on a whim and keeping things seasonal. Upon sourcing, chefs Tom Van Lente and Kevin Cuddihee make practically everything in-house, including beef jerky, sausage, preserves, and ice cream. Two is one of only a few restaurants in Chicago sourcing ingredients from The Plant, a vertical farm and food business incubator located in an old building on the city’s south side. Products from The Plant are sporadic, but Two routinely speckles micro greens from The Plant across their menu. Chefs are also frequent customers at local farmers’ markets, and receive ingredients from such farms as Nichols Farm and Swan Creek Farm.

Duck fat potato croquettes.

Duck fat potato croquettes.

Food at TWO is chock full of heart and soul. It’s comfort food prepared with enough restraint so as not to be a completely debilitating punch in the gut. Duck fat potato croquettes are what happens to tater tots when they die and go to heaven, with a sublimely creamy texture juxtaposed by a golden, crispy crust. Housemade guanciale and housemade ricotta make a rich topping for crostini, flecked with ramps, shallots, and Chardonnay vinegar. Pickled ramps can be found strewn throughout a chilled farro salad, along with roasted mushrooms, asparagus, and Pinot Gris vinaigrette, which tastes like a straight-up injection of Midwestern-style umami. For larger plates, the duck egg pasta is not to be missed. It’s been one of the sole menu mainstays since day one, and for good reason. The al dente pasta has a ductile texture that will make you weep all over it and because it’s laden with succulent shards of duck confit, Parmesan, and duck skin cracklins that taste like duck-flavored Cheez-Its. Another standout is the stunning ramp risotto, as green as a Ninja Turtle and as bold as a punch in the face from a Ninja Turtle. With a texture as smooth as porridge, the risotto is infused with roasted ramp bulbs, housemade bacon, and Wisconsin Parmesan. Diners have the option to supplement a fried duck egg, which is a very wise choice indeed. As the yolky nectar seeps down into the risotto, it enriches it even further, to the point where it feels like you’re eating a big bowl of ramp-flavored hollandaise and that is all that matters in the world. Let’s not forget about rhubarb. Everyone’s favorite rosy stalks can be found alongside a ludicrously tender Hampshire pork belly, adding a welcome dose of tang to the brick-sized behemoth. Rhubarb also brightens up a dense slice of honey-ricotta cheesecake shellacked with whipped cream as thick as pudding. I’m never typically compelled to order cheesecake, but I would gladly go all Golden Girl on this dessert any day.

Duck egg pasta

Duck egg pasta

This is just a sampling of what TWO has to offer and what it’s all about. The menu changes so frequently, that a number of dishes are prone to changing any given day. It’s all based on what seasonal, local products are available, and how the kitchen can maximize them. Every last detail of this place, from the refurbished decor down to the last crumb of duck skin cracklin that you want to lick off the plate, is mindfully tended to with the intent to showcase the very best of the Midwest, and that’s precisely what they accomplish.


1132 West Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642