Updated: Oct 3, 2020
When I can combine good food with good people I'm happy. My recent visit to Chicago checked all the boxes! I visited an old friend and made a point to visit Virtue, chef and owner Erick Williams' outstanding restaurant in Hyde Park. I read about Williams' work in the NYT and immediately added it to my list of must-visit Black-owned restaurants in America. Virtue remains on that list for me, and for more reasons than one I'll be back anytime I'm nearby. It's a vibe!
When we walked into Virtue for brunch during a crowded weekend morning I was struck by two things. First, I was glad we had a reservation. I hate the cold and though I would've waited around in the cold until there was an open table, I would've been miserable the entire time. I'm letting you know right here, it's a popular place so make sure you have a reservation.
Secondly, I was immediately happy and at ease to be in such a beautiful space. And I mean beautiful in more ways than one. The crowd was diverse, the result of a deliberate choice to open in one of Chicago's most diverse areas and Virtue's reputation as a stellar Black-owned eatery. The diversity was also remarkable as it contradicted many of my prior experiences in fine dining restaurants. As someone who is young, Black, loves food, and has the disposable income to go out to fancy meals, I often find myself in the uncomfortable yet familiar position of being the only Black diner in a restaurant, or the only young person of color. At Virtue, an older Black couple seated next to us was clearly on a date, a table full of women of color enjoyed lunch, and couples of all shades enjoyed the dining room. The staff was also remarkably diverse. Shoutout to the chef and management for hiring and training people of all backgrounds. What a breath of fresh air.
The space itself was gorgeous as well, with a mix of art that, in subtle and not so subtle ways, celebrated African American heritage. Think stunning photography focused on Black subjects mixed with African art and etched glass. Beautiful bathroom murals and great music rounded out the environment. All together the ambiance invited you in for a good time whether young or old, brown or melanin challenged.
Brunch was also impeccable. The service was relaxed, yet it was clear the staff knew the menu and I watched them work the service station with ease despite how busy it was. The food was simply amazing. My fried green tomatoes with shrimp and remoulade was exactly the kind of dish that makes you think of Southern food, of Black cooking, but also is distinctly unique. It was bright and acidic, creamy and crispy, yet a little savory from the fried egg on top. I found myself wishing I was hungrier so I could order more, but in the end good sense won out. I hate wasting food and even if a beautiful spread makes for a better photo for the blog and Instagram, it's not my way.
All in all, Virtue is a vibe. If you're in Chicago, definitely check it out. You might even catch me there since I still have to check out the dinner menu.