Organic. Local. Natural. Sustainable. These are all widely used buzz words in marketing campaigns and grocery store chains. Somehow the 50 scientific ingredients utilized in the process of making what appears to be a cheese flavored cracker can also be organic. Who knew? I call bullshit. You’re not going to dupe me with your prototypical advertising rhetoric, not for food, not for clothing, not for yoga, not for anything. I can definitely admit when a product or store backs up their sales tactics by walking the walk, I’m just not so easily bought, and you shouldn’t be either. What a big city does well, at least what Chicago and the others I’ve experienced lives well, is making genuinely healthy, delicious food grown, bought and then made right in your environment. I do not concern myself with where exactly this farm or garden is located (this isn’t an episode of Portlandia, man they nailed that demographic perfectly), precisely how large the area is the animals can roam, how old it was when it died and how long it’s been dead before entering my very live body. It may sound cold. It’s not. I love animals, have tremendous amount of compassion for them, and am a long-time flexitarian. I cry at those ridiculous Sarah McLachlan commercials, I’m not dead inside! I just don’t delude myself into thinking those facts matter or that they’re accurate. If you are, you can receive that information while you enjoy a seasonal dish at Uncommon Ground. It’s been 19 months and nearly 7 full seasons and somehow I’ve neglected to write about UG. I’ve been there nearly 10 times now, had a great experience and even better meal every single time. It’s right near my apartment, which is fortunate and also dangerous, as realistically I should spend less money eating out and choose instead to eat in. But who fucking wants to do that? Not me. This is my work. Food is my muse and someday, someone will put a dollar amount on these words and I will turn in my receipts to the IRS for a full refund. Until then, I will continue to eat most meals at home, some at my favorite cheap spots, and some at the cool kid restaurants, where people with money and people who somehow manage without it go, where a beer is $6 and it’s organic, and I’ve never heard of it, and I’m sitting near a crackling fire, and there’s some genuinely cool looking light fixtures, and they actually make gnocchi (enyokee white people, not noki, just a lesson in pronunciation for your infotainment), and other special treats not carried by most restaurants. It’s gooooood, you should go.
Uncommon Ground’s friendly green sign lies humbly at the corner of Clark and Grace just north of Drunkville, USA, technically in Lakeview. It’s a little big for Wicker Park, little small for downtown, expensive enough for Lincoln Park moms to make the trek and inexpensive enough for other north-sider folk to ride the redline down. Despite my light-heartedness here, I genuinely can’t recommend it enough. The exposed brick, wood floors and various odd shaped rooms gift U.G. the charm of an old house, with modern spins on comfort food sealing the deal. They eat/feed as if they live in Europe, or that crazy country California, seasonally. What a notion, eating food that’s currently growing prosperously, during this particular time of year, in this climate. Forcing myself to eat numerous fruits and vegetables that taste like mealy, textured water does not equate to eating a balanced, healthy diet. It’s a lot of effort to figure out what’s in season where you are at this time but I’d be willing to bet there’s a handy chart out there, or a million books with words about nutrition. Or you can do what I do. Every season, make it a point to eat one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner meal at Uncommon Ground. Study the menu, notice how savory and succulent everything tastes, take actual notes or mental notes and then stock your fridge with similar ingredients. The rest is up to you. I’m not Sandra Lee.
Back to the intention of this article, yes there is one, no it’s not obvious, sometimes you have to work for what you get. And this shit is free. You get what you pay for. The best things in life are free. Wait...yeah, that’s right. Anyway, geez, Uncommon Ground has friendly, knowledgable staff, with senses of humor and personalities and everything. Their mixed drinks are awesome. I’m not much of a drinker, especially liquor drinks, but their Basilica Limon is so refreshing and their bloody mary is lick the inside of the glass worthy. They’re currently combining forces with a Chicago initiative, for every Agripolitan (a new eco drink) they sell, 50 cents goes toward the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project. They have great beer and wine as well, and unlimited glasses of Lake Michigan’s finest. The more you drink, the better the cause. Bottoms up.
important than the atmosphere, cocktails, projects or even staff, is the extraordinary taste and execution of every single appetizer, soup, salad, side, entree and dessert. Regardless if something is your taste or not, you can rest assured the item is fresh, high quality, cared for and then made to taste as fantastic as possible, blending unusual ingredients in the most creative and inspiring ways, leaving you pleased and also perplexed, what the hell is this and why is this the first time I’ve ever had it?! I’ve had meat dishes, vegetarian entrees, cheese dips, sweet treats and savory delights. I wish I could recall and somehow share in every meal I’ve had, through any season, but you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. Last week, after a sweaty yoga class, we all went comfortably dressed and stinky to a well lit corner in one of Uncommon Ground’s many cozy four tops. It was brunch, which comes with it’s very own menu and very own demographic, a diverse one at that. I ordered their take of biscuits n gravy, two eggs over easy laying so beautifully over said B&G, dusted with crumbled bacon and scallions, served with breakfast potatoes. My partner in sharing was one of my favorite fellow travelers and foodies, always willing to grab something sweet so we can share each other’s and have a balanced experience. She got the pomegranate and mascarpone french toast. I can still feel those tangy seeds bursting in my mouth. Wash it down with a PB&J latte. Oh yes, that’s a thing. And it is damn good, like everything else.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Uncommon has become somewhat of a home and platform for bourgeoning artists. They hang pieces of art made by local artists. They don’t stay long because U.G. has an eye for genuine talent. I’ve been fortunate to experience a few of their open mic nights, showcasing some of the most beautiful voices, instrumentals and all around truth I’ve ever seen. To watch these human beings be so vulnerable and honest, and feel so at home on the very modest stage with a supportive crowd is uplifting and encouraging. They have open mics nearly every night of the week, no obligation to eat or even spend a lot, just be a warm member in the environment. These artists are all worthy of your attention, including those working hard in Uncommon Ground’s bustling kitchen.
I believe deep within my gut that real food, that was once alive, from the ground and trees, is the greatest form of medicine, equipping us to not only live a fun, balanced life, but a healthy one as well; where we feel energetic everyday and sleep well at night, armed to deflect any negativity that comes our mind, body, and heart’s way. Take the energy you use in opening a can, jar, box or container and wash some produce. Your digestive system, and much more, will thank you.
Uncommon Ground is a place to absorb nutrition through every sense. Open up.
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