As a child of the ’90s, I spent copious amounts of my youth playing Oregon Trail — that nostalgia-inducing video game of pioneer survival that forces you to ask some of life’s most important questions, like “do I ford the river or pay for a ferry across?”. Having these survival skills well under my belt (NEVER FORD THE RIVER!), it’s a rare occasion when I find myself at a restaurant that not only references the same pioneer survival aesthetic but embraces it.
Meet Frontier, a rustic hunting lodge nestled right in the middle of the bustling Windy City. Serving everything from chargrilled oysters to wagyu beef to an entire menu of whole animals served for groups of 10+ (including… wait for it… a whole roasted alligator!), this restaurant is a fusion of Wild West and culinary adventure.
Now the pioneers were all about doing “without” and surviving on what they could. Frontier bridges this mentality with a menu of gourmet offerings that are off the beaten track while remaining accessible enough for the urban palette.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s hitch up our Frontier wagon and start our #foodporn adventure. This West Town space is rustic with the true feel of a hunting lodge — raw exposed woods mingling with pioneer relics in a dark and cozy environment. Now that the weather has warmed up, Frontier has opened up their stunning patio too and — as a photographer who LOVES natural light — it’s one of the best indoor shooting locations I’ve ever found at a restaurant (ok, Summer House’s giant glass ceiling is a close second).
The patio evokes the dark, lair-like feel of the rest of the restaurant but in a way that feels light and fun. Plus there’s a cozy fireplace to nestle next to with a drink. It was the perfect space for our brunch!Hosted by my dear friend Rachel (who launched her own food blog in April after her obsessive Instagram following practically begged her to), our foodie brunch included some truly beautiful arrangements from Deby Lilly to help set the mood for our morning soirée.
Fresh flowers are the BEST part about spring, don’t you think?
As I often say, drinks are the first and most important component of any delicious brunch and Frontier certainly didn’t disappoint. Rachel opted for this sinfully dirty Bloody Mary that packed a serious POW of spice and flavor. The perfect libation for those needing a morning wake-up call! But most of us went straight for this pink Gin Buck — Hendrick’s Gin, raspberry, basil, lime and ginger beer. The flavor was bright and fruity and complimented my newest Barbie-esque nail color from Smith & Cult (bought at my favorite shop Arch Apothecary!) quite well, don’t you think? This color has the best name too — ‘Gay Ponies Dancing in the Snow’ (available online here).First up on our culinary adventure came these decidedly naughty deviled eggs.
Prepared without fuss, this traditional Southern favorite got a good kick from some cayenne as well as a bright, herbiness from the chives. I’m ashamed to admit how many of these I ate…This was Rachel and I’s first time shooting a meal together — we had so much fun finding new angles and searching for the best lighting together! Be sure and check out her delicious photos from our brunch in her blog post here too! Isn’t she such a beauty?Next up came these sexy Beignets! Served with powdered sugar and a rum apple sauce, these Southern ‘doughnuts’ were a serious crowd-pleaser. We swooped on this tray like white on rice and quickly demolished the freshly fried puffs of breakfast nirvana.
I always like to say, if you don’t like beignets, get out of my brunch.
Fluffy, intoxicating little mounds of fried dough that they are…
Next came a whopping tray of Ostrich Juicy Lucy sliders served with gouda, leeks, foie gras mayo and romaine on a bun. Decadent, juicy AND photogenic. These burgers are such a unique take on the over-played traditional slider: perfect proportions with a seriously satisfying combination of flavors.This unassuming little dish ended up being my personal favorite of the savories.You’ve all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”… well, don’t judge this dish by its simplicity. While its appearance is humble in nature (tying in beautifully with Frontier’s pioneer cuisine theme), it packs a serious gourmet whollop under the surface.
Applewood smoked trumpet mushrooms with scrambled eggs, fried capers, crispy potato and tomato & amarillo broth. A sophisticated, vegetarian entrée that marries together the smoky, meatiness of the mushrooms with the delicate airiness of the eggs all topped with satisfyingly crunchy potato straws.
Hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare without the meat — didn’t expect Frontier to be so delicious accommodating to the vegetarian crowd too, did you?
Neither did I and I have to say I’m addicted to this simple little dish.
Our final offering was Frontier’s take on the traditional breakfast staple of biscuits and gravy. Using cured and smoked lamb handle as the “ham” component, this dish is finished with a cheddar and leek drop biscuit, lamb heart country gravy and a fried egg.
This dish right here is exactly what we’d come to expect from Frontier — nostalgic dishes prepared in new and innovative ways with ingredients you can’t get anywhere else in the city.
Frontier expertly melds the delicious tradition of Southern breakfast with a seriously surprising list of ingredients all so well-executed you’ll be ruined for biscuits and gravy anywhere else. And beignets… and deviled eggs… and sliders…
Thank you Rachel for playing such a fine host and for introducing us all to the pioneer-meets-gourmet world that is West Town’s Frontier!