From stogies and bourbon in the Gold Coast to goat tacos on the southwest side, Top Chef Masters veteran and owner of new Gold Coast hot spot Blue Door Kitchen & GardenArt Smith gives us the scoop on where he hangs out around town.
Chef Art Smith.
In the past decade, Art Smith has gone from a gig as Oprah’s personal chef to an even sweeter role as culinary ambassador to the world, from founding nonprofit Common Threads to help educate children about proper eating to opening down-home-but-healthy restaurants like Disney’s Homecoming and new Gold Coast hot spot Blue Door Kitchen & Garden. No matter how much he travels the world, though, Smith loves to return to his home base in Kenwood on the city’s South Side, where he lives with his husband, artist Jesus Salgeiro, and their four adopted children—and indulge in some of the things he loves about Chicago.
Lighting up: “At 56 years old—and I never was a drinker—I’m loving on bourbon and cigars. So I go to Biggs (1150 N. Dearborn St., 312-809-2444) next door, and then I’m away from the kids and I can puff cigars and drink bourbon with whatever brand-new friend I’ve met.
Favorite eats: “I love to go to Soho House (113 N. Green St., 312-521-8000), and I still like a lot of the old standbys like RL (115 E. Chicago Ave., 312-475-1100). If I want a pastrami sandwich, I’ll go to Eleven City Diner (1112 S. Wabash Ave., 312-212-1112), and if it’s late at night and I’ve been clubbing, I want a Wieners Circle (2622 N. Clark St., 773-477-7444) hot dog, you know? And then when I’m feeling guilty, I’ll run down to Carey Cooper’s LYFE Kitchen (413 N. Clark St., 312-836-5933) and eat some nice, cleansing something so whatever sins I’ve committed it’ll flush them right out [laughs].
Perfect day in Chicago: “You know, I’ve gotten my sexy little running spirit back, and I love jogging on Lake Michigan and coming up to this beautiful, gorgeous skyline—I think we take for granted how beautiful the skyline of Chicago is next to the water. Then taking a stroll through Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St., 312-742-1168) and going under the Bean; there’s so much of Chicago that’s free—and walking down Michigan Avenue and the feeling of that. And if you want to be just completely overwhelmed with the artistry of what great people have created, go into the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St., 312-744-6630) and look at the Tiffany domes, which are the largest in the world. And then I also like to go to some cool neighborhoods, like out by Midway. There’s a place called Birrieria Zaragoza (4854 S. Pulaski Rd., 773-523-3700) that makes the best, most fantastic goat tacos. And my favorite thing for me is visiting my [chef] friends, whether it’s Giuseppe Tentori at GT Fish & Oyster (531 N. Wells St., 312-929-3501) or Bill Kim at bellyQ (1400 W. Randolph St., 312-563-1010) or Carrie Nahabedian at Naha (500 N. Clark St., 312-321-6242)—because I ain’t gonna eat in a place where I don’t like them [laughs]. And I think people come to me [for] the same reason.
Favorite view of the city: “I have to tell you, go in those Bertrand Goldberg corn cobs at Marina City, get on one of the balconies, and overlook the whole canyon of the skyscrapers—that’s pretty amazing. At night, there’s nothing better. And The Langham hotel (330 N. Wabash Ave., 312-923-9988) has the most gorgeous view too. Very few places in the world have that spectacular canyon-river run like that.
Favorite piece of architecture: “I love the Aqua building, with the movement that it has in the sky with the waves. And my favorite older building is the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave., 312-443-3600)—did you know it’s the only building from the Columbian Exposition that was away from the Exposition site? It’s gorgeous and it has a great presence about it.
Favorite hidden place: “We adore Devon Avenue, because Jesus can get every outfit that he doesn’t [already] have, and I can buy all kinds of exotic ingredients, and we can eat at Khan BBQ (2401 W. Devon Ave., 773-274-8600), this wonderful Muslim barbecue house where the people are so sweet and kind to us. I don’t think enough people explore that area; it’s probably one of the premier [Indian] communities in our country.
Plans for fall: “There’s nothing better than going to the Green City Market (1817 N. Clark St., 773-880-1266) with all the great stuff that’s coming out and meeting people in the market.