Eating in a big city like Chicago doesn’t mean you have to sit by yourself, armed with a newspaper, Kindle or some other form of “single’s armor”. There are several restaurants that have done away with or limited the presence of 2-tops and 4-tops in favor of one, big table. Why? It fosters the communal aspects of dining and completes the chef’s vision of how the food is meant to be consumed. But the end result is to effectively disguise the solo diner in a boisterous crowd of fellow gourmands.
Though there are some disadvantages to dining in the crowd, I think they’re outweighed by the benefits. I often ask my neighbors what they’re eating — this not only breaks the ice, it often takes me out of my culinary comfort zone. How else would I have thought to try roasted bone marrow at the Bristol? Or learned to say yes to a schmear of pork neck bone gravy with ricotta from The Purple Pig? Some things would never have crossed my lips if it hadn’t been due to strangers enthusiastically advocating for their favorites.
I find these restaurants tend to be more innovative and switch up their menus more frequently, too. Perhaps it’s because most are small plate concepts, and find it easier to iterate and discover popular favorites. Or it might be that these chefs find it easier to challenge the palettes of people who seek the adventurous atmosphere of a communal table. Either way, most of the menus feature small plates or bite-sized servings, so it’s easy to try a wide range of the menu.
Visit one of these great restaurants to discover the food and maybe make a new friend: