Jared Wentworth of Longman & Eagle

George Corona

Jared Wentworth, Longman & Eagle

When the lady and I were planning our anniversary trip to Chicago last month, my friends quickly lent helping hands with tips on what to do, what to eat, what to avoid, etc. It was somehow my first time ever visiting the Windy City, and while there was some obvious stuff already on my list (Millennium Park, Reckless Records, getting an authentic Chicago Dog), one of the best recommendations I got was a suggestion to stay Longman & Eagle in the Logan Square area. One quick peek at their website shows that it's boutique and cool-as-hell, not to mention a polar opposite to the myriad hotel chain monstrosities throughout the downtown area.

And when I looked into Longman & Eagle even more, I learned that it wasn't just a place to stay — but also a Michelin starred restaurant/gastropub, with what is likely the most epic whiskey program in all of Chicago. It's like if someone put together a grab bag of my favorite stuff, and handed it to me for the few days I was there. Food-wise, it's gastropub fare but taken to the next level. Chef Jared Wentworth makes sure not to just put his stamp on classic drinking food, but to create original new masterpieces in the meantime. Bar Manager Phil Olson and head bartender Derek Alexander create a stellar, robust bar program that somehow mirrors the hearty yet refined food too.And yes it's true, I drank a ton of whiskey during my stay at Longman & Eagle. But luckily I wasn't too hungover to forget to press the record button for my interview with Chef Jared as he sat down with me to chat about his love for Chicago, his $3 whiskey menu, the importance of keeping his restaurant affordable, and his ultimate inspiration when coming up with new dishes: weed.

Tell me about Longman & Eagle and your food here.

Longman & Eagle is your typical neighborhood restaurant that's not very typical. The concept started as just like, really good food with a really good whiskey program, and it kind of just blew up from there. I come from a fine dining background so I bring those aesthetics into a pub feel. Inventive food that we have fun with. Doing spins on classics, but having fun with that too while being delicious. Jon Mariani from Esquire asked me how I could categorize the restaurant, and I told him it's a whiskey bar. That's what it is. It's a whiskey bar that happens to have really good fucking food. We've been open for about three and a half years.

And it's also an inn, of course.

Yeah. It's a take off on 100 year old model of having a saloon on the bottom, and an inn on top.

Why aren't more people doing this restaurant + inn model?

I think some more people are starting to have it in the works. I'm surprised myself though, it's a cool model. The old Michelin model in Europe. Destination restaurant, place to sleep. You can drink a lot and stagger up to your room to sleep.

The rooms here… pretty mindblowing on the cool factor. I love all of the random cool shit in the rooms. Like the homemade mixtapes and old school tape players. The bathtub in the middle of the room. There was even a Michelin guide from 1991 in our room.

Yeah there's a lot of cool shit up there. We have fun here. If you're looking for a good night's sleep, this is probably not the place to do it. And yeah that bathtub you're talking about — I've slept in that even, a couple times depending on how things shook out. I've slept in every one of them a number of times actually. I wish I could now but I mean, other than the first couple months it opened, it's just blown up. Almost always occupied now.

I bet. And back to the food, one thing I noticed with the couple things I've eaten here is that there's that heft you kind of want and expect from pub-type food, but there's a distinct depth and soul to the food as well. Lots of varied techniques, but it was the soul that came through for me.

We go through phases where we'll be super technical, although that's usually in the winter when we have to be because there just aren't many vegetables coming out of the ground from December-April here. But yeah, I won't name names or anything but one of the worst things I see happening is that people are going to fifteen, sixteen course menus and walking out hungry. And I'm not a big eater — a big drinker yes, but not a big eater. And I just don't ever want anyone to leave Longman & Eagle unfed. And I'm proud of our price points. You can come in and drink like five Old Milwaukees, a couple shots of Cabin, and a bowl of meatballs and still walk away full and drunk as hell for like $25.

Speaking of price points… that $3 whiskey menu you have is impressive.

Yeah. That's one of our biggest mistakes, haha. We sell so much fucking whiskey it's not even funny.

There's some really good stuff on the menu though.

No there really is. At last count, there's around forty things on that menu. We go through a ton. It's like the mega store of whiskey downstairs, it's crazy. We buy cases and cases. We're the world's largest seller of Cabin Still whiskey in the world. And I can probably drink about two bottles a week myself, so I help the cause…

You spent time working in Seattle, worked with Scott Stapes out there. How was your experience there, what was the food scene like, etc.

Scott is a really good chef, and a really good businessmen. Taught me a lot, especially on the business side. We opened Quinn's, which was pretty much the city's first gastropub, and we killed it. The Seattle scene itself, it's unreal. They have such amazing product twelve months a year, which is amazing. But as for the diners, I do find that there's some reluctance. Reluctance to fine dining… like I see the word “pretension” a lot in reviews there, like from local critics. But like, it was unfair because there were people/chefs who were just doing their craft. And when I was there, it really seemed like there was only room for four big chefs. Which was pretty much why I moved back here. I didn't want to spend my life being a little fish in a little pond. I wanted to be a big fish in a big pond. People are willing to spend money on food there, but it's the crowds. You have to do shit like happy hour as opposed to like, just having people come in for the food. But yeah, there are things I miss about it. The farmer's markets, etc. Much different than the ones out here in the Midwest.

How do you feel about being in a place like Chicago where perhaps produce, product, etc., might not be as accessible as it is out west?

I think it's becoming that way though, more and more. And I'll tell you the one thing I do like about Chicago — people are really open to creativity out here. To me it's the best food city in the country right now. So many options to be creative, and the rents are low. Whereas in New York, you have to be open for lunch to stay alive. Here, if I wanted to do a dish with like, beef feet, people would be like — “You know what? This guy is doing some crazy shit over there. I want to go back.” It's just less scene oriented than other cities. Chicago embraces their locals.

How does Longman & Eagle fit into Chicago's culinary landscape right now?

We're the restaurant that people love to hate. We use a lot of technique that you'll find in any other Michelin starred restaurant. But we're not you're average gastropub. We're not just trying to hand you a burger or a charcuterie plate. We really are doing some wacky shit. We're cooking what we want to cook. With the exception of two sandwiches on the menu that I just have to have, I cook whatever I want to, I don't care.

What two dishes?

Hamburger and a sloppy joe sandwich. I do have investors and partners, and they honestly give me leeway on everything else.

That seems fair.

Totally fair. And it allows me to not be bored out of my mind when tickets come in at night.

And the food is most definitely creative. I think I had something with pig face for brunch yesterday.

You know what really blows my mind? I've been doing this for 22 years, and our entrees are in the mid $20 range, our appetizers don't go over that. But our food costs have gone up like crazy. I remember when I used to buy skate for $1.75 a pound. Now that same skate is $11 a pound.

Why is that? The demand?

It's the demand, but that's why I am very conscientious of where our price points are. Having a Michelin star for four years now, I could probably jack up the prices. And people would still probably come. I just don't want to do that though, I want people to come and have a good time.

That's admirable. Out in San Francisco, I can name you a few places that almost changed prices overnight, due to certain accolades, stars, a review, etc. I get that, but I feel like it can alienate some people, or perhaps negatively impact the potential for a regular or even repeat customer.

I want to pack it all the time, keep it really neighborhood focused. There's nights we're doing 1000 covers.

So when you come up with a new dish, how do you do it / where do you draw your inspiration?

Oh, I usually just get high. Honestly. I think smoking a little weed makes the creative process better, especially for food. But it's all based in classical French techniques, and then I start putting twists on things from there. I think the longer you do it, the easier it gets. For example like, if we wanted to pastrami cure some sweetbreads. Okay, what goes good with pastrami? You think rueben. Okay, how can we make a sweetbread dish that has all the flavors of a reuben, but make it cool, and make it technical. Okay, let's dehydrate and powder the sauerkraut. Let's take the gruyere and make a foam. Let's take the thousand island and encapsulate it. It's taking all these things and just going with it.

Back to the whiskey program. Was the whiskey part of Longman & Eagle always there from the beginning, and what's your interplay like with Phil in terms of developing the cocktail menu, the bar, etc.

Well the cocktails are more Phil and Derek [Alexander]'s thing, but this has always been about whiskey. Everyone one of us loves whiskey. Like, yes I would love to be doing hamachi crudos and whatever, but you know what? That doesn't pair so well with bourbon. So we do more of a fat focused — fat, sweet, earthy, those all work with whiskey. Beer too. Food that sticks to your ribs, or half of our clientele would be staggering out of here.

Two parter: Favorite whiskey on your list on a budget / Favorite whiskey on your list any price point.

Favorite of all time, any price point, is A.H. Hirsch 16 year. I do drink a good amount of budget whiskey too. George Dickel is great. Michter's. Weller. Elijah Craig 12 year is awesome. And definitely Black Maple Hill for every day drinking. It's just a nice balance, with caramel, sweet, etc. And honestly, there's no bad whiskey. I even drink some white dog. I know a guy who distills down the street. You can get blind drunk, but it's a good time.

If you had to choose just one ingredient that was most important to you, what would it be?

Definitely foie gras, hands down. I love it. It's my favorite food to eat. It's so versatile. And I just don't give a shit about any of that PETA stuff. In the summer we curtail it back a bit, but it's just so good. To me, it's a perfect food group. It gets a bad wrap or whatever because people say it's cruel, but that's all bullshit. It's no crueler than life. And like, these groups who protest it… it's such a small, niche segment when you really think about it. Want to protest something cruel? Go to an industrialized chicken farm.

And if you had to tell someone the one dish to try here, what would it be?

I'd have to say the quail actually. It's indicative of all things I love in food. Gravy — gravy gets a bad wrap. Right now we're doing a Kentucky Fried Quail, where we marinate it in buttermilk and fry it real fast, and serve that with a southern braised green beans with bacon, and foie gras cornbread. Pureed red bean & rice as well, and then gravy over all of that.

Now that's drinking food right there.

Exactly man. Comfort food with a spin!

If your food made music or was in a band, who would it be or what kind of music would it make?

Hmmm. I think I'd have to say something like, Slayer but with Elliott Smith as the lead singer. I like to knock you over the head, but I do like the finer, reflective nuances as well.

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