Lincoln Square restaurant Due Lire is serving new spring dishes such as… (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
Spring means more for restaurants than just dusting off their patio chairs. Last month's unseasonably warm weather has had a delicious side effect: Veggies and fruits that typically aren't ready for picking until later in the spring are already hitting menus across the city. Whet your appetite with this sampling of dishes showcasing chefs' favorite spring ingredients.
Pan-fried Dutch dumplings
$12 at Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St. 773-275-5725)
Available: Now through early June
The menu at this Andersonville restaurant may focus on Southern cuisine, but the ingredients are nearly all grown in the Midwest. For this vegetarian dish, chef Paul Fehribach begins with thumbnail-sized corn dumplings that are an American riff on German spaetzle, then tosses in wild greens such as ramp tops, cornflower and an anise-flavored herb called cicely. As other greens such as nettles and purslane come into season, they might find their way into the mix as well, Fehribach said.
Asparagus and goat cheese tart
$5.50 at Floriole (1220 W. Webster Ave. 773-883-1313)
Available: Now through early June
This Lincoln Park cafe's galette (a French word for a flaky tart) may be the best excuse to bust out of your lunchtime sandwich rut. A crumbly ring of pastry cradles bright young asparagus spears and creamy, mild goat cheese. Served warm, it's a fresh and comforting stepping stone from heavier winter dishes. Taken to-go, it's a prime candidate to replace your staple PB&J for the next few months.
Soba noodles with pork jowl and ramps
$14 at Yusho (2853 N. Kedzie Ave. 773-904-8558)
Available: April 17 through late May
When formerCharlie Trotter's chef Matthias Merges opened this Asian-inspired eatery on the border of Avondale and Logan Square at the end of last year, he drew rave reviews for his knockout ramen broth. While it's now time to switch to a lighter noodle dish, Merges is confident diners will have the same reaction to his buckwheat soba, which are long, thin noodles that look similar to linguine. Ramps add a dash of onion and garlic flavor, while pork jowl keeps it rich and meaty. Merges admits that shaping and pulling the buckwheat dough by hand is a pain, but it's at least a "tedious and delicious" pain.
$10 at Due Lire (4520 N. Lincoln Ave. 773-275-7878)
Available: Now through late May
In Italy, ingredients are king. The same goes for this Lincoln Square restaurant, where simple Italian preparations keep produce in its natural form. Case in point: The pecorino crostini, a rustic appetizer of grilled bread topped with lemony sheep's milk cheese from Wisconsin and bright English peas. The dish gets a hefty dose of sweetness from a block of honeycomb resting atop the cheese. If you've only had honey out of a store-bought jar, it's a special treat to try it in its chewy unharvested form.
$12 at Nana (3267 S. Halsted St. 312-929-2486)
Available: April 19 through mid-May
Finding a substantial salad is no easy task, but this Bridgeport restaurant's new asparagus salad packs plenty of vegetables and protein onto the plate. It starts with a bed of grilled asparagus topped with salty tempura-fried anchovies. On top of that, a sunnyside-up duck egg adds richness and a finishing splash of Meyer lemon juice provides a citrusy pop.
$7.50 at West Town Tavern (1329 W. Chicago Ave. 312-666-6175)
Available: April 20 through mid-June
Chef Susan Goss was so enthusiastic about the availability of strawberries that she couldn't wait to put them on her menu. For now, these plump, juicy berries come from California, but she estimates that the local crop will be available within a few weeks. The strawberry-rhubarb napoleon is a study in contrasts: sweet mascarpone balances the slight bitterness of rhubarb, and layers of crisp pastry support generous spreads of the creamy cheese. Until the napoleon hits the menu next week, Goss will serve a strawberry and Meyer lemon tart ($7.50) as a dessert special for those craving a berry fix.
Kate Bernot is a RedEye special contributor. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyechicago