Drink of the week:
A glass of cucumber- and mint-infused organic Rain vodka at Crust
, 2056 W. Division Street.
The damage: $9.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? I've been dabbling in cooking with organics since living with a family in Boulder, CO, who looked at all processed food with the same disgusted glance anyone would (or should) give cheese that comes out of a spray can. They had me shunning partially hydrogenated oils when the nation's obsession with trans fats were just a twinkle in a nutritionist's eye. But recently, when faced with the decision of buying a box of conventional berries for $2.50 or an organic one for $5, my frugality trumps my conscientiousness.
Thankfully, Michael Altenberg saved me from my spiral into a less-than-green existence. His commitment to developing Crust, the only certified organic restaurant in the Midwest and the fourth in the country, inspired me to rethink my buying habits. If he could go through a painstaking year of certification, the least I could do was support his endeavor by delighting in his organic flatbreads.
How it went down: The organic-focus of Crust doesn't stop at the food. The drink menu boasts an array of infused organic vodkas, mixed drinks with organic juices and organic brews and wines. Other than Red Bull and vodka for the college kiddies, infusions seem like the cocktail of choice these days. Having sampled a handful of flavors over the past year, I was pleased to see Crust crafting some truly original blends, like vanilla bean with cocoa and grapefruit with bergamot (a sour citrus fruit).
The day I dug into the wild herb and cheese flatbread (with ricotta, fontina, the freshest mozz I've ever tasted and a dose of garlic and herbs) the temp neared 90 degrees. I sat on Crust's sprawling back patio and figured the cucumber and mint combo would keep me cool. Offered straight up or on the rocks, I opted for the ice to add another layer of chill. A strong, earthy cucumber flavor overpowered the stiff, dry vodka taste in a good way, but the mint was lost entirely. Still, I sipped the infusion with ease as I looked at the menu, picking between a watermelon margarita or a blackberry mint julep for round two.
Would I want to become a regular? Altenberg's goal of making organic food appealing to the masses meant he had to keep prices low. By picking pizza, he can use mostly affordable ingredients (like flour) and requires less of the expensive ingredients, like meat, than if his menu focused on items like organic steak au poivre. As a result, the high-quality flatbreads cost $10-$14 and, when paired with a hearty salad, could easily be split between two people.
Somehow, the whole meal put buying organic into perspective. The next time I hesitate about reaching into my pockets for a couple extra bucks, I'm going to think about the steps Altenberg takes to run his operation, from verifying how the truck carrying his products was cleaned to making sure no organic fruit rubs shoulders with its conventional counterpart. That kind of devotion to a cause is just too meaningful to ignore.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.