If it’s fresh, it’s at the new Garden View Café

Chef Michael Kingsley riffs about the new menu

Karen Z. —  May 7, 2014 — 14 Comments

“Fresh. Seasonal. Delicious.”

That’s how area executive chef Michael Kingsley describes his food philosophy at our newly re-opened/revamped (and renamed!) Garden View Café.

Let’s start with a few photos of the food—just to focus the brain.

PHOTO: Yogurt with honey and fresh granola and berries.

Breakfast at the Garden? Try the fresh-made yogurt with granola and fruit.

PHOTO: Salad of baby greens with watermelon radish, bacon, tomatoes, and homemade croutons.

Lunch at the Garden? Try a salad of baby greens with watermelon radish, a hint of bacon, and homemade croutons.

PHOTO: Sandwich of grilled chicken breast, local white cheddar, roasted tomato, lemon-basil mayo, sourdough ciabatta.

Dinner at the Garden? Enjoy outdoor seating under the willows with your fresh-made balsamic chicken panini.

Chef Kingsley has the experience to know what those words really entail. He’s done it all in his decade-plus as a chef: cooked in the world of hotels, country clubs, and French restaurants; served VIP dinners to former President Bill Clinton, to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and to sommelier Alpana Singh of Check, Please! and, as area executive chef for Sodexo, overseen the restaurants at some of Chicago’s most popular public institutions.

In a fun and foodie interview, the chef explained what makes the Garden View Café’s approach so interesting.

The Menu: Seasonal and Plant-centric

PHOTO: Flatbread with shaved cheese, grilled tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar on baby salad greens.

Seasonal veggies never tasted so good: arugula topped with shaved cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on a fresh-baked flatbread.

“We wanted a truly seasonal menu,” Kingsley says, “that changes three times per year, according to what grows in spring, summer, and fall. What we’re serving here is what’s really growing around here.” Of course, it takes a lot of planning to gather all the ingredients for a fresh-based café menu.

First, the chef worked closely with our horticulturists at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden and Windy City Harvest Youth Farm to coordinate what’s being grown outside with what’s being served inside. That means some of the heirloom tomatoes, supersweet peppers, kale, onions, and carrots—the staples of the Café—are grown by the Chicago Botanic Garden itself. “Sometimes the produce picked in the morning will be used in the kitchen that afternoon,” Kingsley says. “The cross-pollination between the Café and our other Garden programs gives visitors unique access to truly fresh food.”

Map showing local sources for food at the Garden View Café.

Know where your food comes from: local suppliers from the quad-state area are proudly pointed out at the Café.

Beyond the Garden, Kingsley honed relationships with the local vendors that supply what the Garden can’t: bread from Chicago’s Red Hen Bread, pastured chickens from Indiana’s Gunthorp Farms, handmade cheeses and fresh sausages from Wisconsin’s best artisans, asparagus from Michigan’s Daisy Farms. “It’s not just that we use local chickens,” Kingsley explains, “but also that we support our neighbors—and therefore grow an economically healthy community for us all.” It’s a fantastic group of resources, whose names are proudly posted in the Café. Check out the full list of providers here.

The Service: Quick and Casual

With his resources in place, the chef turned to the how-to’s of service. How to grab a quick takeout or snack (at easy-to-browse coolers and a farmer’s table at the Café entrance). How to order from the fresh-cooked menu (walk right up to the counter at the open kitchen, where it’s prepared on the spot). How to get hot food to your table quickly (servers deliver and/or pagers buzz when it’s ready).

PHOTO: A pizza goes in to the pizza oven.

Flatbreads are baked to perfection on demand.

Two conveniences stand out:

  1. A Wood Stone brick-style oven. It’s big. It’s fast. It cooks Kingsley’s flatbreads (thin pizzas + yummy toppings) to crispy perfection. The daily flatbread special is always posted on the chalkboard, and there are four standard versions on the menu, too.
  1. Barista service. Double-skinny vanilla latte with a splash of hazelnut? No problem. At the new barista station, we proudly serve Starbucks coffee…and its full menu of hot and cold beverages. The baristas—all of whom have been trained by a Starbucks coffee master—are happy to talk roasts and brews, too.

An awesome view

PHOTO: View of the remodeled cafe.

The new Garden View Café

PHOTO: A view from the Skokie Lagoons of the cafe deck, with trees in bloom.

The café deck, abloom in springtime

It’s renamed the Garden View Café for a reason. The clean, open, airy interior lets in maximum light—and a photo-worthy view—through the big, Edward Barnes-designed windows. They act like frames around the always-changing view of the lakeside garden: daffodils in spring, flowering natives in summer, hibiscus in fall. Two outside decks (take your tray across the hall to relax with a view of Bird Island) act like the ultimate sidewalk café—except without the traffic, the concrete, or the noise. 

And then there’s the food

It’s good. Really good. Because it’s local and fresh, the tastes are vibrant. Because the cooking techniques are simple, it’s healthier for you. And because the menu is in tune with the seasons, each dish satisfies. “Even the desserts are minimally produced, but full of flavor,” the chef notes. (Yes, they are: have you tried the house-made baked goods yet?)

“Of course we give out Café recipes,” smiles area executive chef Michael Kingsley. “They’re not proprietary, and they’re uncomplicated—you can make meals this way at home, too.” Three seasons’ worth of café recipes are on our website.

Kids get the healthy treatment, too (though they won’t realize it). Sure, there are chicken tenders, but they’re baked with a cornflake crust. There’s mac and cheese, with good-for-you butternut squash as a hidden ingredient. And almond butter panini with apples subs for PB&J.

PHOTO: Cornflake-crusted chicken tenders with a skewer of fresh fruit.

What kid wouldn’t try fruit shaped like a star?

“Food at cultural institutions used to be high calorie and high fat,” Kingsley recalls. “Now, we want to educate people about how to stay healthy. The Café isn’t just a place to go out of necessity—we want you to say, ‘Let’s go eat at the Garden. The food’s great there.’ ”

We couldn’t agree more.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Karen Z.

Posts

Karen Zaworski is a writer who likes to use as few words as possible, a photographer who still works with black-and-white film and a darkroom, and a gardener who actually likes to weed.

14 responses to If it’s fresh, it’s at the new Garden View Café

  1. Julia Babarik May 8, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    No more soup on the menu? My husband and I love the vegetable chili.

    • Julie McCaffrey May 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Julia, do not fear—although it does not currently appear on our online menu, soup has not disappeared from the Café’s selections! We still offer 3 soups on the menu each day, one of which is always the much-loved vegetable chili. Upon entering the cafe, please check the chalkboards for special offerings and soups for that week.

  2. eileen sirkin May 16, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    the garden cafe is beautiful & the menu enticing, BUT it is CHAOS. So poorly organized that it’s impossible to get your food & one is forced to wander the cafe to get beverages & ice, for example, which are far away from each other. Needs a re-org by someone who knows how to run a cafe.

    • Julie McCaffrey May 16, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to give your feedback regarding the newly renovated Garden View Café at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Your feedback helps us to better serve our members and visitors. One of our goals in the renovation was to closely align our visitor’s experience outside in the gardens, with the experience they have inside the Café. This includes having the design of the space mirror the architectural integrity of the rest of the Garden’s buildings.

      We understand your frustration as the new café is very different than the old one. We ask for your patience, as each day we continue to make tweaks in the operations to improve the flow. Unfortunately some decisions had to be made, that we, too were not especially happy about, but had to make because of mechanical or structural issues of the building. This includes placement of the ice machines.

      Please be assured that we have taken your remarks and suggestions seriously. I will continue to share all the comments with the Café Manager, Chef and staff, who are working hard to meet the needs of our members and visitors.

      Harriet Resnick
      Vice President of Visitor Experience and Business Development

  3. Was looking forward to lunch at the new Cafe, only to find they were out of food except for cold sandwiches that I could get at ant 7-11! Very disappointed.

    • Julie McCaffrey May 20, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to give your feedback regarding your experience at the newly renovated Garden View Café at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

      I am sorry that you were unable to try our new made-to-order menu items. It is noted on our menu that the made-to-order lunch menu is served daily until 2 p.m. You can see that in the link from our website:
      http://www.chicagobotanic.org/cafe/menu. The café is open until 5 p.m., but from 2 to 5 p.m., selections are limited to our grab-and-go items and barista bar.

      If you were in the café before 2 p.m., then for sure I want to know about that. If the volume of customers warrants keeping the made-to-order food operation open past 2 p.m., then of course, that is something we will do in the future.
      With uncertainty in the weather, especially lately, and therefore a fluctuating volume of visitors, the existing schedule helps us to reduce our operating costs.

      Once the Garden View Café switches to our Summer Evenings hours, there will always be hot, freshly made food available at the Garden Grille (on the café’s deck) from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Garden Grille will open June 7 and remain open daily through Labor Day.

      Please be assured that I have taken your remarks and suggestions seriously. I will continue to share all feedback with the Garden View Café manager, chef, and staff, all of whom are working hard to meet the needs of our members and visitors.

      I hope you will be able to return an experience our new menu.

      Harriet Resnick
      Vice President of Visitor Experience and Business Development

  4. Aletha Palaszynski May 25, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Yesterday my husband and I were up visiting and we stop to have Breakfast there. Oh my gosh I was in Heaven I had the First Harvest Omelet and my husband had the Farmer’s Breakfast. It was so good. Then latter on we stopped and had ice cream scoop. It was a wonderful time to come and visit the Garden and Good food does help. Wish I could get some of your recipes to make some of the foods you have listed to eat.
    Thank You
    Aletha

  5. Really enjoyed the Chicago Botanic Gardens and was pleasantly surprised at how good the food was at the Cafe. I had the Garden Spring Chopped Superfood and it was delicious. I look forward to coming back and definitely will eat the salad again.

  6. I should have asked in my last comment. Any chance I could have the recipe for the Garden Spring chopped superfood?

    Many thanks.

  7. I was at the Garden on Sunday, June 1, 2014, for breakfast. It was chaos!! There was no indication on the menu about the best part of the old café: the make your own omlette. By the time the food arrived at our table it was no longer hot. Two pieces of toast should have two pats of butter. Did you change the vendor of your sausages? The previous ones had more sage flavor. The potatoes were good. What happened to the bottles of frappicino?

    • Julie McCaffrey June 4, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to write about your recent visit to the
      newly renovated Garden View Café at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Please be
      assured that we have taken your remarks seriously and shared them with the
      café’s general manager, chef and staff, as it helps us to better serve our
      members and visitors.

      Currently, the café is in the midst of creating a revised menu, in which
      we are determining how to best serve make-your-own-omelets in the new
      kitchen configuration. In addition, we are looking to add equipment which
      will keep the food warm as it comes off the stove and is set for delivery.

      As for your other comments, I do apologize if there was no butter with
      your toast. Normally orders of toast come with two butter pats and one
      jelly packet. The sausage is exactly the same as it was in the past, prior
      to the renovation.

      There are four flavors of bottled Frappucinos available in the café. They
      are in the coolers by the pastry/barista station. If you are not ordering
      in that line, you can always tell the cashier you’d like one and they will
      get it for you.

      As is the case with any major change, we are still working through the
      nuances of this new space and trying as best we can to match the
      customer’s requests with the new experience we are trying to offer. The
      new café has only been open less than two months, and we ask for your
      patience as we move through this process.

      I hope you will return again soon. Starting this Saturday, the Garden View
      Café will be open every day until 9 p.m. as part of our Evenings program,
      which has four nights of free music, Monday – Thursday.

      Again, thank you for your feedback.

      Harriet Resnick
      Vice President, Visitor Experience and Business Development

  8. The new menu is wonderful! Thank you for expanding the offering of quinoa in the chopped superfood! YUM YUM YUM! Also, thank you for keeping the vegetable chili. Although I’m a fan of the old soup crackers, I understand that there is an effort in updating menu items and for the adult palette, this is awesome. But that’s where it ends. My 3 year old, who has been a regular cafe patron for the past 2 years, doesn’t like the new mac and cheese. Now I know that you’ll go on and on about how wonderful the new recipe is, and I whole heartedly agree that the new choice of healthier ingredients is TKO, but it’s mac and cheese, and if the 3 year old doesn’t eat it, then, there’s a problem. Maybe it’s because there are adult sized noodles on the plate? Or maybe the flavor is just not what it used to be. The old mac and cheese used to be a slammed dunk. The other menu offerings don’t really scream “Little children will eat this”, maybe the older ones will. But please bring back the plain grilled cheese, with choice of white bread or multigrain bread. Also, during the transition, the temporary cafe offered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was served on the multigrain bread. When I first saw it, i thought (my then 2 year old) would not eat it, but was utterly shocked, and taken back when he was wanted more of the bread with the ‘seeds’ in it. Now, this may sound like child is a picky eater, but he is a very adventurous consumer of staple foods. However cornflake encrusted chicken tenders isn’t going to win the day. And apple sauce is definitively preferred over baby carrots any day of the week from now until the cows come home.

    Thank you for your consideration!

    • Julie McCaffrey June 13, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      Mr. Vila,

      Thank you for taking the time to write about your visit to the newly renovated Garden View Café at the Chicago Botanic Garden. One of our goals in the renovation was to closely align our visitors’ experience outside in the gardens, with the experience they have inside the café.

      I am glad that you enjoyed the chopped superfood salad. Our new configuration makes it possible to serve salads like this. The offerings will change seasonally, so that what is served reflects what is actually being harvested in our region so that we can locally source as many ingredients as possible.

      As the mother of three children myself, I know that feeding your kids outside the house can be challenging. With our new children’s meals, we are trying to take children’s favorites and serve them in a manner which instills healthy eating, especially with items direct from the garden, hence carrots vs. applesauce. You do bring up a very good point though about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I have spoken to our general manager of food service and she will resume having those on the multigrain, “bread with the ‘seeds’ in it”(as you describe) in our grab & go coolers. I sincerely hope that you and your child will be happy to see its return.

      As summer approaches, I hope that you and your child will enjoy our offerings of the season, especially Dancin’ Sprouts, our free concerts for children each Wednesday evening at 5:30 and Butterflies & Blooms.

      Thank you again for your feedback.

      Harriet Resnick
      Vice President, Visitor Experience and Business Development
      Chicago Botanic Garden

  9. I love everything about the Botanical Gardens, but especially the Garden Cafe!! I cannot wait to bring my parents back for a visit the weekend of July 12th! My dad’s been waiting almost 3 yrs to visit and am as excited as a clam at high tide! Keep up the excellent food selections. I enjoy every visit wholeheartedly! I hope the burgers are still as good as the one I had last year!!!

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