Chicago Restaurant Week: From the Farmhouse and beyond

elisDowntown Chicago might seem about as far away as you can get from rural America, but think again.

At Farmhouse Chicago restaurant, an antique tractor grill covers the hostess stand, steel pipes are stairway handrails and simple cotton kitchen towels are napkins. On display are collectible toy tractors, walls are whitewashed and accouterments include a salvaged Toledo scale.

On the back of staff T-shirts is a nickname: Rooster, EIEIO, Parsnip. On a wall is a mural of Midwest farm scenes. On a chalkboard are names of farms whose ingredients are key to the menu. On the 28 beer taps are craft brews from several states.

The executive chef, Eric Mansavage, is a native of Stevens Point. “We focus on Midwest cuisine and immigrant influences,” the Le Cordon Bleu graduate says. That includes hints of Polish, Irish and German cuisine – and beer-battered cheese curds, made with Ellsworth Cooperative Creamy cheese. Eric figures 3.5 tons were sold in 2014.

“We find these beautiful ingredients,” he explains. “From there, it’s a simple approach. We treat the ingredients with respect.”

So chicken noodle soup looks classic but tastes refreshing because it is made with wild mushrooms, kale, carrots and free-range chicken. For dessert: moist parsnip cake with apple pie ice cream.

These are familiar flavors but atypical comfort food. “My Dad comes from a large Polish family, and those flavors are engrained in my DNA,” Eric says, “but my range (of expertise as a chef) is bar food to fine dining. This is food that I’d cook for people in my own home.”

The restaurant also is a delivery point for community supported agriculture shares for the restaurant and individuals. Behind the bar are spirits from Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee, meads from southern Illinois, a Pig’s Nose whisky from Scotland and other, lesser-known alternatives for imbibing.

Farmhouse Chicago opened in 2011. Restaurant co-owner T.J. Callahan and wife Molly McCombe in 2012 bought a 140-acre farm near Mineral Point. Their permaculture plans already involve beehives and dozens of apple, tart cherry, pear, peach, plum, elderberry and walnut trees. A goal is to eventually turn some of this into hard cider for the Farmhouse.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” T.J. says, of his adventure in agriculture, called Brown Dog Farm, in honor of the couple’s two Chesapeake retrievers.

Farmhouse Chicago is at 228 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago;, 312-280-4960. A second Farmhouse restaurant opened in 2013 at 703 Church St., Evanston, Ill.;, 847-492-9700.

About 250 businesses, including Farmhouse Chicago, participate in Chicago Restaurant Week, which ends Feb. 12. Fixed price menus are $22 for lunch and $33 or $44 for dinner., 312-567-8500

The recent First Bites Bash, a kickoff to this event, demonstrated the range of menu possibilities: scallops with sweetbreads from Fulton Market Kitchen, 311 N. Sangamon St.; duck meatballs from Frontier, 1072 N. Milwaukee St.; stuffed crimini mushrooms from Local Root Restaurant, 601 N. McClurg Court; Beef Wellington with bleu cheese from Kinzie Chophouse, 400 N. Wells St.

Chicago Theatre Week, Feb. 12-22, means a deep discount for tickets to 100 shows. For more about which productions are offering $30 and $15 admission:

What else engaged my appetite during this quick visit to the Windy City?

Eli’s Cheesecake, 6701 W. Forest Preserve Dr., serves lunch and slices of strawberry, salted caramel and other cheesecakes in a bakery café at its retail store and corporate office. O’Hare International Airport is home to an additional café for the family-owned business that began in 1980., 773-205-3800

Benny’s Chop House, 444 N. Wabash Ave., is the two-time winner of Baconfest Chicago and serves bacon appetizers from 3-7 p.m. Thursdays. That means BLT flatbread, bacon nachos, bacon tacos (with pickled cabbage, candied apples), Elvis sliders (bacon, peanut butter and banana on pumpernickel) and more., 312-626-2444

At the city’s five Glazed and Infused locations are fat doughnuts, usually filled and/or topped with decadent combinations. Examples: Banana Nutella Pretzel, Chocolate Maraschino Cherry., 312-226-5556

On the rooftop of Dana Hotel, 660 N. State St., is the edgy Vertigo Sky Lounge with outdoor seating, heating and inexpensive eating during the 4-7 p.m. weekday Happy Hour. Nibbles include Angus beef sliders, two for $4., 312-202-6000

Lunch at Beatrix, 519 N. Clark St., means devilish temptations (chocolate chip coffeecake, honey butter cinnamon rolls) and many healthful choices, like the Straight A Salad (Asian pears, Asiago cheese, toasted almonds, avocado and arugula)., 312-284-1377

Complimentary treats for overnight guests at Kinzie Hotel, 20 W. Kinzie St., sometimes include mini buffets from nearby restaurants, served in the Double Cross Lounge. Example: pulled pork sandwiches from Public House, 400 N. State St., 312-395-9000

The long-loved Chicago Mix at Garrett Popcorn Shops’ multiple Chicago locations has a name change because of a trademark lawsuit filed by a Minnesota popcorn maker. Now the mix of caramel and cheese popcorn is called the Garrett Mix., 888-476-7267

Closer to home: The first Kenosha Restaurant Week, Feb. 14-22, involves fixed price breakfasts ($10), lunches ($10), dinners ($20 and $30) and “sweets and treats” specials from at least 18 businesses.