John Wayne Formica has spent nearly every day this summer on the roof of his employer. That's because part of the job description of being the chef at Homestead - which shares a kitchen with the West Town Bakery but requires entry through its neighbor, Roots Pizza - is to be as much urban forager as creative chef.
"Around the city, I have a couple co-ops that I work with-rooftop gardens. And also I'm working with the farmers market," said Formica.
A farmer's market supplements his haul, but he can find plenty up here, between both the traditional horizontal garden, as well as the vertical one, growing up alongside the brick building to the West. Both gardens play a role in the dining experience - diners practically sit in the middle of them - and it's part of the overall, craftsman experience.
"Down to my tables are remanufactured wood, reclaimed wood or remanufactured doors. That really brings that hominess to homestead," Formica said.
As for the food, Formica tries to push the envelope a bit, even by neighborhood standards. Thinly-sliced, perfectly smoked salmon is meticulously plated along with Chinese 5-spice powder and crispy salmon skin, plus fennel, dill and pickles that all came from the garden.
A crispy potato cylinder is stuffed with pureed potatoes that are fortified with some Illinois goat cheese; this "two-way" potato dish is then accented with truffle oil as well as fresh, sliced truffle plus a host of edible plants, like nasturtium, raspberry flowers and buckwheat. Even a small dish like lamb tartare is showered in the garden's bounty - herbs, flowers and parsley plus a few crispy chickpeas for crunch.
"The menu represents something from the garden-each dish. Whether it might be something as miniscule as a garnish that is a mint flower on my desserts," he said.
There are additional seats inside at Homestead, just in case the weather doesn't cooperate. But those outside seats will go away obviously in a few weeks, as the weather gets cooler. No word yet on what will happen to the menu, once we get our first freeze.
1924 W. Chicago Ave.