Dear Margaret – Warmth and Comfort

Dear Margaret. French-Canadian cuisine with Midwestern ingredients. Photo: Neil Burger

On January 15, 2021,  Dear Margaret opened its doors for carryout and delivery. Owner Lacey Irby– a veteran in the hospitality industry and Executive Chef Ryan Brosseau who served as opening executive chef for Le Sud, present a Canadian-French changing menu of rustic-refined dishes prepared with local and seasonal ingredients. “Dear Margaret is founded on the passion and ingenuity of a year-round preservationist’s kitchen and larder, just like my mémé—French-Canadian for grandma—relied on to feed her family,” Brosseau explains. “This restaurant acknowledges her, in name and mindset, with the type of approachable food we feel people want and crave for a sense of togetherness, especially after almost a year apart.” 

Dear Margaret intrigued me as I had heard and was familiar with French cuisine, not Canadian-French. I had the opportunity to chat with both Lacey Irby and Ryan Brosseau to learn more about this new restaurant. My first question was, what sets French-Canadian cuisine apart from French cuisine (Are they different?) Irby said, We like to say our food is rooted in traditional technique, but also has the ingenuity of someone who is attuned to making the most out of the seasons, from pickling and preserving to using the whole animal or vegetable. Ryan grew up in southwestern Ontario, which is a huge farming region. Many in his family were farmers, and his grandmother had a family plot where she grew vegetables for cooking and canning. French cuisine is founded on the same principals, just French-Canadian cuisine is set in a different part of the world. Ultimately, the goal is to come together with the people you love around great food and break bread together. That’s nourishing on so many levels.” Brosseau answered, “I’d just say there is less emphasis on being fancy and more emphasis on feeding a lot of people. So I think that French food is often associated with decadence and special occasions, whereas French-Canadian food is about being calorie-dense to survive and make sure the family is fed. But they both come from the same origin.” 

I can tell you that the menu sounds delicious, with lots of seasonal ingredients, vegetables and comfort. But maybe like other diners, I sometimes do not know what to order. Everything sounds delicious and I find it hard to make a choice. So, I asked Irby and Brosseau what they recommend? Irby recommends,  “If you’re ordering for one, one or two small-medium plates and one large plate is sufficient. (like Parsnips, Beet Salad, Ham Roast–chef’s current favorite). Alternately, a great order for this cold weather is Putsins + Pomme Frites. I am personally a huge fan of the veggie-centric dishes Ryan makes.” Brosseau noted, “I think this is the most balanced menu that I have ever written. If you get something from each category, you can’t go wrong. But my heart is always with the tourtière and the ham.

As dishes will be rotating as product availability changes, relying on local ingredients whenever possible I wanted to know if it will be reminiscent of Chef Ryan’s grandmother’s cooking. He responded, “the menu has a lot of influences from the food I grew up eating. We used to get the family together to make fruit pies and meat pies to freeze to last through winter. I can’t even tell you how many tourtières I ate as a kid. Where I grew up also has many different ethnic populations—Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, Indian, Chinese. Before I got into cooking, I was in appliance repair. And let me tell you, if you go into a Greek home to service an appliance, you’re not getting out of there without eating lunch. Actually the roasted lamb dish with confit potatoes and mint on our menu right now is a nod to the Greek family who owned the first appliance repair company that I worked for. So, yes, we do plan to rotate our menu as ingredients come into season and inspiration strikes, and we’ll be drawing from lots of sources and taste memories.”

Ending the interview, Irby said “We are so thankful for the support of our friends, family, and especially our Lakeview neighbors who have given us such a warm reception even in the middle of winter. Even though we are still waiting to open our approximately 40-seat dining room until we are on the other side of the pandemic, we very much look forward to when we get to share this intimate indoor space with everyone. Until then, we’ll be offering pickup and delivery, which guests can order through Tock. Thank you!” and Brosseau added, “I can’t tell you how much the support from industry people has meant to me. From chefs to sommeliers and servers–so many have ordered and given heartfelt positive feedback. I think we’ve hit upon a nice niche of well-executed and comforting food.” 

 Dear Margaret offers a menu tailored to travel well for enjoyment at home, with onsite dining launching once City of Chicago enters Phase 5 (full reopening). Located in Lakeview, 2965 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60657. Open Tuesday-Sunday 5-10 p.m., closed Monday.  Follow on social media @dearmargaretchi (Facebook, Instagram).

All photos by Neil Burger

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