Chicago Rooftop dinner

homestead.JPGLet's start with the good part: Homestead has one of the loveliest outdoor dining areas in the city. Cornstalks, ivy, honeysuckle, and tomatoes climb one wall, and there's a large central garden with herbs, kale, strawberries, clover, and radishes. Tables are made of old doors or other reclaimed wood. At night the space is illuminated by strings of tiny white lights that hang overhead. It's really quite charming.

The latest restaurant from the Fifty/50 Group, Homestead is located above West Town Bakery & Diner (formerly Bleeding Heart Bakery) and Roots Handmade Pizza (which is where patrons enter). It's billed as "literal farm-to-table, " and while calling the 1, 000-square-foot garden a farm seems like a bit of a stretch, it's a nice concept, at least. Every dish on the menu includes at least one ingredient grown on-site, and a lot of the other food comes from local farms.

Which brings us to the food, unfortunately. Bread comes with a slightly sour but otherwise undistinguished house-made yogurt cheese, olive oil, peanuts, mint, and spices. We liked the olive oil, but the squat jar it was served it, while cute, made dipping the bread—or getting the cheese out—pretty difficult. And though Vera has convinced me that paying for bread can be worth it, $7 for this spread seems a little steep.

In fact, the entire menu is a little steep. The "shareable" plates—smallish portions maybe half the size of an average restaurant entree—average just under $15, which can add up pretty quickly if you're ordering a couple apiece. For outstanding food it'd be worth it, but the braised Berkshire pork belly managed to be both dry (the meaty part) and what my friend described as "gushy" (the fatty part)—though the braised rapini that came with it was nice. Baby octopus confit with spiced tomato chutney, bourbon fish sauce, and "meadow mix" was tender but overseasoned, the flavor overwhelmed by spices and fishiness. Best was a side of "deconstructed corn": a tiny polenta cake, a few spoonfuls of sauteed corn, and threads of toasted corn silk (though I'm not convinced that corn silk is something I want to eat). A peach turnover made with phyllo dough was also perfectly respectable—but we liked the pistachios that came with it best.

My friend—actually trying to be nice, not snarky—concluded that Homestead would be "a good place to go if you're not looking for good food." And it's kind of true. It's a nice place to have a cocktail or a beer and maybe a snack, I just wouldn't go back for dinner.

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