South Loop Outdoor Dining–off the beaten path

Looking for someplace to go that’s new to you or someplace to take out of town guests?
Look no further than the Greater South Loop Association’s Gastronomist entries. We will be posting reviews of local restaurants. We’ll point out highlights of each restaurant—whether it’s a menu item, the ambiance, local lore or some other facet. It’ll be just the starting point for you to continue to explore your neighborhood!
We’ll try to get to all of the restaurants in the area, but, if you have one to recommend that we try, please let us know.

First up, with the onset of warmer weather (in theory), we’ll whet your appetite by exploring the outdoor dining options.

South Loop Open Air Dining

Now that it’s stopped snowing for almost a week, let’s get outside and enjoy our beautiful Chicago spring and summer.
For those days you just don’t feel like cooking or ordering take out, here are some outdoor dining options to consider right here in the neighborhood:

We’ll start with the off street outdoor dining spots and then work our way through the sidewalk cafes (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it). These are not traditional reviews, but more descriptive so that you know all your choices. We’ll also include information about whether dogs are permitted, if we know.

Here we go:

chi-firehouse-patio--1024x686The poshest outdoor space I can think of is the patio at the Chicago Firehouse (SE corner of 14th and Michigan). Now, usually, I think of the Firehouse as more of a special occasion restaurant, but cocktails and appetizers on the patio are perfect for a group of friends on a nice evening after work, or a weekend afternoon. The cocktails are very nice, the service is quite good, and their seasonal appetizers are usually perfect for the weather. The patio is behind the restaurant and fenced in on the street and alley side. The plantings are nice, with potted flowers and nice trees. There are soft chairs and nice umbrellas if it’s too sunny or lightly raining. There is also a nice sofa/chair area for a group to lounge. I like the South Cider cocktail and any beet based appetizer they offer. (Not dog friendly that I know of.) (312-786-1401, open for brunch Sun 930-3, lunch M-F 1130-3, dinner S-Th 3-10, F 3-11 and Sat 4-11, bar open S-Th 3-11, F 3-12 and Sat 4-12.)

Cafe Society 002Another nice outdoor space is at Café Society, about to reopen as Spoke & Bird this spring (the outdoor area was under construction last week when I walked by) (SE corner of 18th and Indiana). It’s always shady and, being right by the Women’s Garden and Clarke House, a nice spot to take visitors and kids. The food at Café Society was casual and plentiful and the former owner is remaining involved in the new evolution. Watch for updates.

flo-and-santosFlo & Santos (1310 S. Wabash), in addition to the sidewalk café you see as you walk by, has a whole city lot on the north side of the building for outdoor dining. Who knew pizza and pierogi went together like…well, like Chicago summers and outdoor dining? Named after the founder’s Polish grandma and his Italian grandfather, it offers a unique combination of tastes that never disappoints. A friend in the neighborhood has created his own pizza (not yet on the menu, but he’s working on it) of green olives, pepperoni and carmelized onions. You gotta try it. (Dog friendly sidewalk cafe.) (312-566-9817)

Reggies-RooftopReggies Chicago (2105 S. State) offers another unique outdoor space—their own rooftop. Complete with a carnival style basketball hoop, bags, an outdoor shower, a pool table and dozens of tables, you can get full bar and restaurant service. Their pulled pork sandwich and macaroni and cheese are my favorites. City views like no place else in the area, and live music in the venues downstairs make this a tough place to miss. They also have a sidewalk café at street level. (Dog friendly outdoor space.) (312-949-0120, open late.)

Ma & I at 1234 S. Michigan has tabletop to ceiling windows that they open up in nice weather. Their menu is largely Thai, but also offers Japanese and sushi. This is a great place to go for a nice dinner with friends. Their appetizers are nicely sized to share and the Tiger Smiling is always yummy. Offers good vegetarian options. (Not Dog Friendly.) (312-663-1234, open M-S 1130 to 10, Sun noon-9:30.)

City Tavern (1416 S. Michigan), in addition to its sidewalk café, has floor to ceiling doors into its front area that open in the nice weather. That area is equipped with comfy chairs and a couch. Stroll in through the regular door or step right into your sitting area. Their specialty cocktails are perfect for summer sipping and the menu varies somewhat with the season. I love their poutine. (Indoor open air area not dog friendly.) (312-663-1278, open M-Th 4-12, F 4-1am, Sat 1130-1am, Sun 930-midnight (kitchen closes 2 hours earlier.))

And the one I discovered this weekend: Mariano’s (1615 S. Clark), added outdoor tables in the front of the store. Since it’s not on the street, it’s not really a sidewalk café, and since it’s not a traditional restaurant, I though it belonged in the unusual outdoor spaces. You can get anything off their hot bar, salad bar, or I guess make your own sandwiches even and grab a bite on your way home from the grocery, or stop in after dropping off your recycles in the city yard across Clark Street. (312-225-4386, open 6 am-10pm.)

Next week on to the more traditional sidewalk cafes.

GSLA Gastronomist