Reviewed Food: Lula Cafe

Lula Cafe, 2537 N Kedzie Blvd, Chicago |  773-489-9554
Hours: Open Mon, Wed-Thu, Sun 9am-10pm; Fri-Sat 9am-11pm

Imagine yourself on a hot and humid Chicago summer day. The moment you step outside, sweat begins to drip down the nape of your neck, allowing your hair to stick to your skin like a magnet. The air is so heavy that the simple act of breathing requires conscious effort on your part. Now imagine stepping back inside into a well air-conditioned room, rinsing off in a serene Koehler-inspired shower and feeling as clean as a sinner leaving confessional. That refreshing feeling is equivalent to my dining experience at Lula Café.

Created by husband and wife team Jason Hammel and Amanda Tshilds, Lula’s Café is an industrial-cozy eatery with hipster charm nestled in the heart of Logan Square. The carefully crafted menu is full of quality ingredients, organic meats and seasonal produce, all locally sourced no greater than a 100 mile radius. In fact, some ingredients are so close to home, they are picked up just a hop, skip and a jump away at City Farm on Division and Clybourn. It’s a view of Hammel’s that freshness is a factor of distance, and ingredients that are the closest to you are the most valuable to you.

Indeed. The food alone entices your most basic sensuality. No one ingredient overpowers the next; instead each flavor tiptoes across the palette like a lithe ballerina dancing across the stage, until it is met with the next, and the next and so on.

Such is the case with the Squash Blossom Quesadilla, a strategically layered plate full of authentic taste. Setting up the foundation for this quesadilla are warm refried black beans, a Mexican staple that is usually made as an after-thought, but in this dish they are substantial enough to carry the entire dish. Not too chunky or too runny, I was as content as Goldilocks as I sunk my fork into the rest of my meal. Placed above the beans was a slightly crisped corn tortilla. Perhaps you may wonder: Why not the tortilla as the foundation, as is the norm with most quesadillas? This flick whip of wonderment is soon erased as you realize that the tortilla maintains its crispness and does not succumb to sogginess because of where it is placed. Sitting proudly over the warm beans lends itself to be a sturdy home for an avocado-lime crema and a sunny-side egg, both with a distinct smoothness each its own. Daintily resting on the summit of this well layered quesadilla are the vibrant sweet corn and cherry tomato relish, both of which may just as well have been picked up from the Farmer’s Market down the street.

Each distinct layer complimented the next, like the Kennedy’s and sleepy sailboats off of Hyannis Port. The progression from the warm and perfectly salted beans all the way to the cool relish that bursts in your mouth allows you to overfeed your senses without overfeeding your stomach.

The Three Sister’s Farm Grits was another menu item that caught my attention. The confit chicken thigh, cooked steadily in bacon fat, was light in essence but full of rich flavors. A gentle tasting white anchovy, fresh shell summer beans, a colorful heirloom tomato salad, pine nut vinaigrette and a 60-minute egg rounded out the dish. A 60-minute egg? Yes, it had me intrigued. It is made using Sous Vide technology, a method of cooking food under a type of specialized vacuum in precise temperature-controlled water baths. This way of cooking the egg changes the consistency of the yolk, giving it a beautiful velvety creamy texture that is difficult to obtain with traditional methods. And using this technique to cook the egg gave it permission to sit rather boldly on the plate, proud that special attention was given to creating its new persona.

Some may argue that locally sourced food is nothing new to the restaurant world, that in fact it’s what’s “in” nowadays, and I agree. However, there is a pureness when it comes to the food at Lula Café, a sublime pleasantness that is often very hard to find when dining out. It’s like putting on a new pair of glasses after years of blurry vision; you wonder, how can I ever go back to looking at things the same way again?