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SALAD DAYS Bar Marta’s Iceberg & Grains salad gets topped with a creamy avocado dressing and fresh herbs.

There Goes the Neighborhood

by Lisa Shames | Photo by Allan Perales | Men's Book Chicago magazine | March 8, 2016

It’s not like the owners of Bar Marta intentionally set out to make their new Humboldt Park restaurant mysterious. Or, for that matter, have people drive by thinking it’s closed. Rather, those thick curtains covering the windows are there to help create an oasis of sorts. “We want diners to not have to know or think about what’s going on outside for an hour or so,” says chef Jeff Pikus, who, along with Austin Baker, both alums of Hogsalt Hospitality (Au Cheval, Bavette’s, Maude’s Liquor Bar, etc.), is behind Bar Marta.

It all makes perfect sense once you’re inside. The dimly lit room with a marble-topped bar on one side and a smattering of tables on the other (there’s a second dining room downstairs) feels cozy, and it’s a perfect match for the sophisticated yet deeply comforting food of Pikus, which does some globe-trotting without losing its soul.

There’s a terrific smoked eggplant ($12) that gets its earthy flavor from Middle Eastern spices and time spent in the wood-burning grill. Spread the creamy mixture on the housemade crackers, dab on some of the refreshing yogurt and tahini sauce and repeat until the plate is clean. It won’t take long. The steak knife that comes with the Iceberg & Grains salad ($10) seems like a mistake—until you start to eat the salad. The wedge of crunchy lettuce benefits from a sharp utensil, which can also be used to scrape up the bits of tasty farro and sprouted lentils.

Heartier dishes are found farther down on the menu, including a wonderful half-roasted chicken ($19), which is seasoned with smoked paprika and Espelette before it’s finished on the wood-burning grill. Those thick slices of bread on the plate take a bath in the bird’s pan drippings followed by a quick sear on the grill. In the future, I want all my bread to come like this. There are a few pastas as well, including a housemade cacio e pepe ($12) that’s rich without being cloying.

Desserts don’t skimp on the comfort level either. And since Pikus is in charge of those too, there isn’t a disconnect between the savory and sweet dishes that can sometimes happen. You can’t go wrong with the chocolate tart with salted caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Or, skip dessert and have one of Bar Marta’s perfectly made cocktails. The Martinez is a bracing-in-a-good-way mix of gin and vermouth, while the Champagne in the French 75 gives the drink a celebratory vibe, which, come to think of it, was exactly the mood my dinner companion and I found ourselves in, having discovered Bar Marta.

BAR MARTA
2700 W. Chicago Ave., 773.697.4489
Open for dinner Tue.-Sat.

Orange (Wine) is the New Black
In addition to an interesting global wine list, Bar Marta also features a handful of hard-to-find orange wines—a white wine whose hue is courtesy of contact time with the grapes’ skins—including 2008 La Stoppa, Malvasia di Candia Ageno ($17 by the glass, $68 by the botttle).