By Lisa Arnett, @redeyeeatdrink
January 17, 2013
Review: Little Goat
820 W. Randolph St. 312-888-3455
Rating: 3.5 (out of 4) Heating up
Stephanie Izard earned a loyal following when she brought home a "Top Chef" title in 2008. When her new restaurant Girl & the Goat opened in 2010 to rave reviews, she became even more adored. And now, with the opening of Little Goat, her spin on a classic East Coast diner, it seems fitting that the chef who had the whole city talking about pig face now is serving a smoked pork milkshake with a cherry on top.
Opened last month in the West Loop, Little Goat has a lot going on. Besides the main dining room, Little Goat Diner, there's Little Goat Bread, a coffeehouse-bakery-bar-sandwich shop combo that also bakes all the bread for Girl & the Goat across the street. Upstairs, there's a cooking classroom and private dining space in the works.
All that aside, perhaps the biggest appeal of Little Goat is that it's a place to taste Izard's food without a reservation made weeks in advance. A diner is supposed to be the kind of place you can just drop in for a bite, right? I stopped in for a few meals to size up what Izard's latest creation has in common with the traditional diners that inspired it.
DINER AUTHENTICITY CHECKLIST
Diners often are called "greasy spoons," but Little Goat doesn't deserve that label, despite the ample fried foods on the menu. Tempura-fried onion rings and pickles ($7) are crunchy and light as air, served alongside ranch and curry mayo for dipping. Fried chicken ($22) is a crispy, greaseless wonder resting on fluffy mashed potatoes flooded with rich gravy. If this is how Izard does fried chicken, we're in for a treat when she debuts a chicken-centric eatery sometime in 2013.
Check and check. The diner's open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, and breakfast is served all day. The adjacent bakery, Little Goat Bread, opens at 6 a.m. to serve breads and pastries—plus sandwiches on fresh-baked potato buns, baguettes or sourdough—and closes up at dinner time, when the space takes on more of a bar vibe.
You can sit at one of those twirly stools.
Yup, the most iconic fixture of old-school diners is in plentiful supply, lining the counter in front of the kitchen. Vintage napkin holders top the tables, and booths line the walls, though they're upholstered with a tasteful caramel-colored material rather than, say, shiny red vinyl.
There's a jukebox in the corner.
Nope, but I left wondering how I could get my hands on Little Goat's playlist. Tunes ranged from throwback to so-right-now and grew louder and funkier by night (nothing like a little "Gold Digger" by Kanye West to inspire you to order another beer). I loved hearing a mix of original songs I recognized more for their remakes ("It's My Life," the Talk Talk version, not No Doubt) and vice versa ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Starf---er), which seems oh-so-appropriate for a modern diner.
Your server's a sassy old broad.
Definitely not. Little Goat's servers are more sweet than snappy, and all are quite young. The ladies sported collared dress uniforms with ruffled aprons, though they didn't look ripped from "Two Broke Girls" thanks to the understated eggplant hue. Though Izard's following will likely continue to bring in big crowds, my server made an effort to ask my name, which was enough to make me feel like a regular.
The coffee's bottomless.
Drip coffee from Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters comes with free refills, but it's the specialty espresso drinks that really rock, such as the signature Little Goat ($3.75), a chai-coffee mashup made from espresso with masala spice, goat's milk caramel and steamed goat's milk. The signature Little Goat ($3.75) is a chai-coffee mashup: espresso with masala spice and steamed goat's milk, which adds a subtle richness. All coffee drinks have two espresso shots, which you'll need to counteract food coma-inducing treats such as the Fat Elvis waffles ($11), a salty-sweet flavor bomb of banana slices, bacon crumbles and an ice cream scoop-sized heap of peanut-butter butter. That last part isn't a typo—it's Izard's genius peanut butter-flavored butter that melts into a pool of scrumptiousness atop two fresh-from-the-iron waffles.
The menu's big.
It sure is—plus it's tri-fold and plastic-encased, like a diner menu should be. With more than 75 items, the selection is seriously dizzying. Izard is known for expertly combining textures and flavors, and that skill seemed to shine through especially in some of the least diner-esque dishes. A Korean pancake sandwich with pork belly and house-made hoisin sauce ($12) sounds more at home at chef Bill Kim's new Belly Q down the street. But it fired on all cylinders with smoky pork, crunchy bok choy and ginger-maple dressing that added just enough sweetness and zing to the rich scallion pancake base. Even though there are dozens of reimagined diner classics still to try—club sandwich, reuben, biscuits and gravy, patty melt—I could see myself wanting to order that porky pancake every time. On the other hand, not everything is a slam dunk. My server recommended the Croque Monster ($12), which is basically a gigantic ham and cheese omelet topped with a sliver of toast sliced so thin that you can literally see through it. It looks cool, and it's a decent omelet, but it just didn't feel as special as everything else.
The prices are tiny.
This isn't the kind of diner where you can score a full spread of eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and toast all for a measly $7. Breakfast entrees and sandwiches run $9-$13, dinner entrees span $14-$22, and sides such as fries and goat cheese-topped hash browns are served a la carte ($4-$7). So if you add a boozy beverage ($6-$13 for beer and wine, $13 for cocktails) and split a starter such as the cheesy hot crab dip ($12) with a friend, it's easy to drop $50 apiece. Portions are generous, and taking leftovers home is the only way I had room for dessert; from the number of people leaving with to-go boxes, I clearly wasn't the only one saving room for the sundaes, milkshakes and pie ($6-$8). Blood orange meringue pie was tart and light, while the chocolate pie ("like heaven," gushed my server) was kind of like a mix between a chocolate-chip cookie and pecan pie that would have been more heavenly if served warm.
Bottom line: The monstrous size of Little Goat's menu and Izard's comforting flavor combos beg you to come back. And even though I've already been three times, that's exactly what I'll be doing.
Reporters visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye. email@example.com | @redeyeeatdrink
FAST FACTS ON LITTLE GOAT
Reservations: Not accepted. Expect a wait at peak meal times. I was able to snag a counter seat with no wait on two occasions.
To eat: The menu features more than 75 dishes. Entrees featuring goat's meat include the goat burger, sloppy goat sandwich, farmer's pie, goat chili and goat chili fries.
To drink: Beer, wine and cocktails, plus coffee drinks and an impressive collection of retro bottled sodas such as Cheerwine, Green River and Nehi Peach.
The crowd: Solo diners and gal pals at the counter, foodie friend groups filling the booths and a handful of families with kiddos under 5.
Good to know: Little Goat isn't that little at all; it's much bigger than the West Loop's other modern spin on a diner, Au Cheval.
Souvenirs: If you think the goat-emblazoned mugs are cute enough to swipe, visit the retail nook to buy them along with other goaty goods for fanboys and girls.
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