Serious Eats: Chicago
The Vegetarian Option: Nana Organic
Nana Organic makes me wish I were a Bridgeporter. Strolling, say, a few blocks from home over to this bright, airy, friendly space on a lazy Saturday afternoon to level a few cups of well-brewed drip and some comforting diner-style fare would be a regular ritual for me if I were a neighborhood resident. As it stands now, I make a more distant, but increasingly frequent, pilgrimage to Nana. It's worth every mile.
For the vegetarian diner, Nana has thought of you—rather lovingly, in fact. The menus have lots of thoughtful meatless options to choose from, and many straddle breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner. So if you get hooked on the crispy chickpea fries ($6), for instance, Nana will oblige your habit pretty much anytime. The fries are impressive structures; I can't quite figure them out. They have a crunchy shell with a creamy, almost polenta-like interior. It's hard to picture how something so velvety can go into a fryer and not simply evaporate or dissolve. The fries come on a bed of three dips: date argodolce, garlic aioli, and harissa honey. The honey, which is drizzled around the outskirts of the plate, and the aioli work great together—the spicy sweetness of the honey mixture traingulates well with the garlicky aioli. I couldn't get into the clunky agrodolce, and I wished the tasty greens had been cut smaller and better dispersed across the matrix of fries. But those minor faults are rendered fully inconsequential by how independently enjoyable these fries are.
The vegan lentil taco platter ($15) is another veggie-friendly option available on the lunch and dinner menus. I had the lunch version, and I can see it working at either meal. The dish is pretty robust—it features grilled pineapple salsa, black beans, white rice, guacamole, lime cabbage slaw with strawberries and hot peppers, and a trio of doubled-up tortillas cradling black lentils and onions—but no one ingredient is going to weigh you down afterward.
Are both black lentils and black beans needed on this plate? I'd say no, especially given that the lentils are delicious and well-seasoned, but meanwhile the kitchen has done nothing to augment the flat and familiar black beans. But all the other components add meaningful flavor and texture to your taco assembly. The pineapple salsa has a restrained sweetness and hints of spice, and the guacamole is fresh and creamy.
On the other hand, I wouldn't change a thing about the grilled chile de arbol-marinated tofu ($12). The kitchen has deftly imparted the slabs of grilled tofu with pronounced, tobacco-y smokiness. The chopped veggies—broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, green onion—are tossed with black beans and Nana's own crumbled veggie chorizo. The latter is damn good stuff, with plenty of spice and a nice tender texture.
This dish comes with warm tortillas on the side for creating your own wraps, but I found myself not using them; I didn't want anything getting between me and the lovable flavors on this plate.