Season change brings fall tastes to tables

By J_Howard

The change from summer to autumn brings more than just cool weather and colorful leaves; it’s also time for Chicago restaurants to introduce some of their fall foods, bringing warmth and comfort to the table.

Fall foods tend to include produce like pumpkin, apple and squash with spices to complement them. This season, local restaurants and home cooks are putting a new spin on traditional autumn foods.

“People are experimenting more,” said Howard Rosenthal, brand director for TV chef  Mr. Food, whose philosophy is quick and easy cooking.

Hopleaf,  5148 N. Clark St., is a tavern with a seasonally changing menu.  Michael Roper, owner of the restaurant, said this is because the food ordered is from Midwest farms or farm co-ops.

“Our menu has to change with what is available,” Roper said. “So right now, if you go into a restaurant and they still have a spring green salad on the menu, that means the greens are probably coming from 2,000 miles away. We don’t have any more spring greens because we are not in spring.”

On Hopleaf’s current menu are monkfish and veal sweetbreads, as well as its staple best sellers, mussels and frites, which are on the menu year-round.

“We have a fairly compact menu, so when we put new things on, the new things are what really sell,” Roper said.

Sunday Dinner is a local catering business that also has a seasonally changing menu. Owner and chef Joshua Kulp sources all the business’s food directly from farmers in the region.

“Right now we are kind of in transition, where we are incorporating things from the fall like squash or Brussels sprouts, while we are still finishing up the last of summer foods,  like zucchini and eggplant,” Kulp said.

But those who choose to eat at home this fall have an equal opportunity to take advantage of everything the season brings to the table. Rosenthal said the idea of allowing food to simmer in a slow cooker is more popular during the fall months and makes heavier fare more popular.

“The more and more people are cooking at home, they are getting in tune with shortcuts that will make their life that much easier,” Rosenthal said. “So obviously a lot of slow cooked meals … you would expect in the fall.”

Roper added it is important for Chicagoans to take advantage of the seasonal fruits and vegetables by going to farmers markets to buy ingredients. He said by canning or preserving this produce appropriately, one can have fall produce all year long.

“This is the best time of the year,” Roper said. “[The farmers markets] are loaded with stuff. You can buy things like turnips and they keep. Those root veggies are plentiful, reasonably priced and fun to cook with.”

Rosenthal also said cooking at home allows people to bond and have fun. He suggested a quick recipe for those on the go who are looking for a healthy alternative.  Cutting slices of pumpkin pie, roasting them and pouring some maple syrup on top serves it as a quick, healthy and festive dish.

“We can make a dish that will not only meet our taste, but also our dietary requirements,” Rosenthal said. “But taste is always first. People talk how what they eat is comfort. If we can modify that and get a happy balance, that’s what it’s all about.”