Fancy Plants Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in Lincoln Park near DePaul University, has weathered the pandemic since it opened in August. Although it was a bumpy start with recruiting and securing a liquor license, owner and chef Kevin Schuder feels comfortable and is trying two new gimmicks: a “Convert a Carnivore” night with a special menu and one vegan happy hour.
Happy hour drink specials have only been legal in Illinois since 2015 after Springfield repealed an archaic law. Chicago restaurants and bars took time to build this culture of discounted food and drink enjoyment and to adhere to restrictions like complying with laws that limit discounts for a specific time each day.
These discounts meant big business for the hospitality industry and many venues started having fun with their offers, with chefs and bartenders showing off their creativity. But then the pandemic began in March 2020. Downtown workers, some of the most loyal supporters of happy hour specials, stayed away from the Loop office buildings. The bars had been closed for on-site service for months and the happy hour impulses of the past five years had evaporated.
As the summer progressed, bars and restaurants began to market more happy hour specials as the alfresco dining and vaccine added consumer confidence. And the specials pop up in unexpected places. Case in point: Fancy Plants recently started a happy hour with appetizers like arancini with cashew mozzarella and dates with fake eggplant bacon.
âPeople think that vegans are responsible and healthy,â says Schuder. “Maybe it’s time to enjoy being a little mischievous, and what could be nicer than throwing back a few cocktails?”
The vegan happy hour is the brainchild of restaurant manager Kylie Cabrera, a restaurant veteran who has worked with Michelin-starred restaurants such as Elizabeth and Band of Bohemia. She also developed the wine program for Mango Pickle, the Indian-inspired restaurant in Edgewater. Pairing wine with Indian food was a unique challenge for Cabrera, and she says she uses what she learned at Mango Pickle with Fancy Plants. Natural wines are the focus at Fancy Plants, and all are vegan (some natural wines are bladder-filtered, Fancy Plants doesn’t have vineyards bearing this selection).
Not many vegan restaurants in Chicago have full bars. There are Althea the Loop and Bloom Plant Based Kitchen in Wicker Park. Chicago Diner also has a liquor license in Northalsted, as does Spirit Elephant in the suburbs. Meanwhile, upscale restaurants like Ever have vegan options, but strict vegans can feel uncomfortable eating in a place that also serves meat. But Fancy Plants is trying something else.
âI think vegan guests should be able to enjoy a wonderful meal without sacrificing quality, especially service,â says Cabrera.
Happy hour is part of some promotions for Schuder, who created a meatless burger last year to stand up to other vegan entries like Beyond and Impossible. This includes holding “Convert a Carnivore” on Sundays, which he hopes to entice non-vegans with a special menu and a $ 10 gift certificate promise. The gift vouchers give the playful evening âgame show qualityâ, says Schuder and is so successful that he plans the special dinners every week: âThat was a creative victory,â he says.
Last weekend was a particularly snowy and cold Sunday for the first edition of the event. So Schuder, who has a good culinary background, prepared a French onion soup with a base of mushrooms and kombu. The main course was mushroom bourguignon. Cabrera, who is not a vegan, says the bourguignon is a crowd-pleaser.
âI think it’s valuable to a non-vegan to work in a restaurant,â says Cabrera. “I think non-vegans appreciate a tour guide.”
Lincoln Park Restaurant is a bigger brother to a Lakeview cafe. Schuder feels at home where his business is going and attracts local guests to the restaurant to join the starving vegans who will travel long distances for a high-quality meat- and dairy-free restaurant. He is confident that he can convert more carnivores, or at least whet their appetites.
Unusual plant kitchen, 1443 W. Fullerton Avenue, Convert a carnivore on Sundays Reservations through Tock; Happy hour from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Thursday to Sunday. The opening times will be extended.