Servers at Little Goat sport retro-inspired uniforms. (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
Review: Little Goat
820 W. Randolph St. 312-888-3455
Rating: 3.5 (out of 4) Heating up
Stephanie Izard earned a loyal following when she brought home a "Top Chef" title in 2008. When her new restaurant Girl & the Goat opened in 2010 to rave reviews, she became even more adored. And now, with the opening of Little Goat, her spin on a classic East Coast diner, it seems fitting that the chef who had the whole city talking about pig face now is serving a smoked pork milkshake with a cherry on top.
Opened last month in the West Loop, Little Goat has a lot going on. Besides the main dining room, Little Goat Diner, there's Little Goat Bread, a coffeehouse-bakery-bar-sandwich shop combo that also bakes all the bread for Girl & the Goat across the street. Upstairs, there's a cooking classroom and private dining space in the works.
All that aside, perhaps the biggest appeal of Little Goat is that it's a place to taste Izard's food without a reservation made weeks in advance. A diner is supposed to be the kind of place you can just drop in for a bite, right? I stopped in for a few meals to size up what Izard's latest creation has in common with the traditional diners that inspired it.
DINER AUTHENTICITY CHECKLIST
The food's greasy.
Diners often are called "greasy spoons," but Little Goat doesn't deserve that label, despite the ample fried foods on the menu. Tempura-fried onion rings and pickles ($7) are crunchy and light as air, served alongside ranch and curry mayo for dipping. Fried chicken ($22) is a crispy, greaseless wonder resting on fluffy mashed potatoes flooded with rich gravy. If this is how Izard does fried chicken, we're in for a treat when she debuts a chicken-centric eatery sometime in 2013.
It's open early – and late.
Check and check. The diner's open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, and breakfast is served all day. The adjacent bakery, Little Goat Bread, opens at 6 a.m. to serve breads and pastries—plus sandwiches on fresh-baked potato buns, baguettes or sourdough—and closes up at dinner time, when the space takes on more of a bar vibe.
You can sit at one of those twirly stools.
Yup, the most iconic fixture of old-school diners is in plentiful supply, lining the counter in front of the kitchen. Vintage napkin holders top the tables, and booths line the walls, though they're upholstered with a tasteful caramel-colored material rather than, say, shiny red vinyl.
There's a jukebox in the corner.
Nope, but I left wondering how I could get my hands on Little Goat's playlist. Tunes ranged from throwback to so-right-now and grew louder and funkier by night (nothing like a little "Gold Digger" by Kanye West to inspire you to order another beer). I loved hearing a mix of original songs I recognized more for their remakes ("It's My Life," the Talk Talk version, not No Doubt) and vice versa ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Starf---er), which seems oh-so-appropriate for a modern diner.
Your server's a sassy old broad.
Definitely not. Little Goat's servers are more sweet than snappy, and all are quite young. The ladies sported collared dress uniforms with ruffled aprons, though they didn't look ripped from "Two Broke Girls" thanks to the understated eggplant hue. Though Izard's following will likely continue to bring in big crowds, my server made an effort to ask my name, which was enough to make me feel like a regular.
The coffee's bottomless.
Drip coffee from Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters comes with free refills, but it's the specialty espresso drinks that really rock, such as the signature Little Goat ($3.75), a chai-coffee mashup made from espresso with masala spice, goat's milk caramel and steamed goat's milk. The signature Little Goat ($3.75) is a chai-coffee mashup: espresso with masala spice and steamed goat's milk, which adds a subtle richness. All coffee drinks have two espresso shots, which you'll need to counteract food coma-inducing treats such as the Fat Elvis waffles ($11), a salty-sweet flavor bomb of banana slices, bacon crumbles and an ice cream scoop-sized heap of peanut-butter butter. That last part isn't a typo—it's Izard's genius peanut butter-flavored butter that melts into a pool of scrumptiousness atop two fresh-from-the-iron waffles.