Would it live up to the hype? Before a recent trip to Chicago, multiple people and restaurant reviewers recommended Girl & the Goat as a must-try. Their menu constantly seems to change so we did not know what to expect. What I did know, after only a little research, was that their executive chef (Stephanie Izard) was a star (past winner of Bravo’s Top Chef). Also, Girl & the Goat was nominated for the James Beard award for best new restaurant in 2011.
It’s safe to say – it lived up to the hype. We had not yet explored the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago by the last full day of our trip. The area is west of downtown and harkens back to Chicago’s industrial past, reminding me of the stockyards I had read about in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle years ago. For these reasons, the neighborhood had almost a Brooklyn vibe. Former warehouses converted to restaurants, and old factories turned to trendy hotels. We even had a drink at steakhouse built to model the headquarters of a famous Chicago meatpacking facility from the 19th century, Swift & Sons.
Girl & the Goat, however, stole the show for the evening. When I had called about three weeks in advance, they did not have any reservations available until about 10 PM on the Sunday night we were planning to dine there. Nevertheless, they encouraged us to stop by because they always reserve space at the bar for walk-ins. We decided to go early around 5 PM just after the restaurant opened to grab a seat. We were indifferent if we failed as the neighborhood seemed full of great options, especially Au Cheval, an upscale diner across the street with allegedly the best burger in Chicago.
After you walk inside Girl & the Goat, there is a large a table, with an oversized sofa and chairs surrounding it. It would be easy to mistake it for a waiting area, but they actually serve dinner here as well. The setting is quasi-communal. You are not expected to share plates with random patrons, but you will be potentially sitting on the same couch as them. The seating arrangement did not detract from our experience in the least (although next time we’ll make sure to reserve a real table far in advance!).
We ordered a beautiful bottle of Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley and went to work on dissecting the menu. People came and went from our corner of the restaurant, including one particularly rude woman who attempted to wedge herself and her husband into the corner of the couch between us and a mother dining with her daughter. We laughed it off and drank more wine. The restaurant continued to fill up. The energy inside was electric.
As noted earlier, the menu is eclectic and unique. From fried duck tongue and seared tuna, to out of this world pierogis and shrimp, the dishes never ceased to amaze me. The small plates style was perfect and allowed us to enjoy a variety of food on this always evolving menu. Below are my favorite and runner-up dishes, along with a series of pictures from our time there (you obviously have to try some goat!). I could not recommend this place more.
- Favorite dish: duck tongues (tuna and black bean poke, crispy wontons, piri piri; see picture below in the upper-right hand corner)
- Runner up: goat empanadas (see cover photo and bottom two left hand side and center photos)