In case all the pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin-shaped Halloween candy don't make it glaringly obvious, pumpkin season is upon us. But don't worry, this time of year is much more than artificial pumpkin syrups. Everyone's favorite orange gourd is as versatile as it is luminescent, handily baked, cooked, and even frothed into a plethora of avant-garde pumpkin creations, many of which can be sampled right now in restaurants and cafes throughout Chicago. Here are some top spots for pumpkin creativity this season.
It's officially pumpkin month at Magnolia Bakery as well. The precious downtown bakeshop puts pumpkins front-and-center throughout its confectionary library. Pumpkin pecan is the cupcake of the month, melding two classic fall pie flavors into one luscious cupcake. Pint-sized pumpkin cheesecakes are prepared on a gingersnap crust, while pumpkin whoopie pies find maple cream cheese icing betwixt two pumpkin spice cakes. Pumpkin pie is available whole, by the slice, or by the mini pie. There's also pumpkin pecan bars, made with spiced pumpkin pecan filling over a brown sugar shortbread crust. Is that enough pumpkin for you?
Let's not forget about pumpkin seeds. These little guys are much more than salty snack fodder, as proven by a creative new menu addition at The Monarch. The regal Wicker Park spot crowns pork shoulder steak with pumpkin seed gremolata. Pork is sous vide overnight with fennel, sage, and citrus, while the verdant gremolata adds a boost of fall pizzaz to the unctuous plate. It's finished with a smattering of acorn squash, pickled butternut squash, ciabatte bread, whole-grain mustard, and au jus from the pork.
Pumpkin tastes extra special at Dinkel's Bakery & Cafe, seeing as their current roster of pumpkin goodies is offered in conjunction with their 92nd birthday celebration this month. Because nothing says "happy birthday, you're 92!" quite like pumpkin pie. The quintessential fall comfort food is being offered by the complimentary slice with any sandwich purchase. The only caveat is that customers must say "kostlich" when ordering, which means "delicious" in German and makes perfect sense. Pumpkin doughnuts with cream cheese frosting are also on deck this month. While you're there, you may as well order their limited time schnitzel sandwich special in celebration of their birthday.
It's raining pumpkins at Red Door. The cozy Bucktown nook is celebrating pumpkins in all their glory this month with an entire menu devoted to the ingredient. To eat, order one of their lobster-stuffed mini pumpkins, the cutest thing to happen to pumpkins since Jack-O-Lanterns. It's filled out with chanterelle mushrooms, Swiss chard from the restaurant's patio garden, and red curry sauce. To drink, try a pumpkin old fashioned, brimming with Old Weller bourbon, pumpkin spice, and Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters. There are also a couple pumpkin beers on hand, including Brookyln Brewery Post Road Pumpkin Ale and Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale.
Each month, Epic's chef Matthew Pollock features a different burger and beer pairing, often toying with seasonality in bold new ways. Well it doesn't get any bolder than a pumpkin burger, folks. Available for the rest of October, Pollock hones in on pumpkins for his seasonal pairing, offering a prime burger bedecked with fried pumpkin, caramelized apples, and Swiss cheese, served with a bottle of Lakefront Brewery's Pumpkin Lager. The epic combo is available in Epic's lounge and rooftop areas for $15.
Perhaps the only seasonal beverage more synonymous with pumpkin than lattes is pumpkin beer. ‘Tis the season for jolly pumpkin ales, rich with heady fall spices and mild treacly undertones of pumpkin. One of the best spots to stock up is Lush Wine & Spirits, which features all the old standbys as well as new craft beer options to satisfy any pumpkin thirst you may have. Some standouts at the shops include Dogfish Head, Southampton, Lakefront, and Smuttynose, along with more contemporary creations such as Timmerman's Pumpkin Lambicus and pumpkin ciders.
One of the most innovative pumpkin menu additions this season can be sipped at Takito Kitchen. Wicker Park's modern taqueria is now shaking up and pouring out pumpkin margaritas, one of the latest novelties on their drink list. The restaurant constantly features a lineup of house margaritas, along with seasonal variations. What better way to take advantage of the season then by drinking pumpkin drowned in tequila?
Photo credits: Ipsento, Lush Wine & Spirits, Tommie Nguyen for Red Door, Magnolia Bakery, Dinkel's Bakery & Cafe, The Monarch, Epic, Chelsea Ross for Takito Kitchen