Serious Eats: Chicago
The Vegetarian Option: Jane's
They say a monkey can do a pretty good job picking stocks by throwing darts at the business section of the newspaper. You, too, can blindly poke at the menu at Jane's Restaurant in Bucktown and pick a tasty vegetarian dish or two.
Your finger might land on, say, the corn chowder ($7), which has great body without any help from heavy cream; Jane's opts to thicken this minimalist chowder of corn, carrot, and celery with milk instead. This soup is savory with just a touch of that telltale corn sweetness. Jane's crusty bread comes in handy here for mopping up every last puddle of the stuff.
Venture elsewhere across the menu and you might land on the quinoa and vegetable garden burger ($13). Jane's makes the burger patty in-house, which is not as common a practice as it should be. The benefit is a burger that not only tastes of fresh ingredients, but also doesn't look like a drink coaster. Unlike many veggie burgers out there made primarily with rice, black beans, or soy, this one starts with protein-rich quinoa. The burger "meat" is on the soft and loose side—no real bite or crispy char to speak of. This is already a good veggie burger, and I think the extra effort to sear the patty (without drying it out from too much heat on the grill) could make it a great one.
And yes, those are mashed potatoes, occupying 6 through 9 o'clock; they're good.
Leave off the optional serving of chicken from Jane's angel hair pasta ($17) and you get a very interesting, and vegetarian, take on spaghetti with red sauce. Cilantro, spinach, tomato, and chipotle pesto come folded into the heap of noodles, all of which is topped with a generous snowcap of cotija cheese. I'm not usually a fan of angel hair pasta, but I like this dish. It's well-sauced and, as you can see, well-cheesed. The combination of herbs and spice works, and the kick of heat kept me coming back for one more forkful.
When I think of the city's cozy, neighborhood restaurants, Jane's immediately comes to mind. Don't go expecting culinary fireworks, only fresh, flavorful, and comforting food. And just about anyone—primates, humans, you name it—is likely going to find a dish on the eclectic menu that will satisfy his or her taste—vegetarians in particular.