Photograph: Anna Knott
Found’s unique charm could be denied only by someone with a cold, shriveled heart. After eating at a pack of new restaurants whose generic-hip vibes and calculated eclectic menus had all begun to blur together, I started to think mine was that heart. But Amy Morton’s earnest American bistro, with its creative food and vintage-thrift decor funkier than a Parliament cover band, thawed my arctic soul. Imagine what it could do to you.
In Chicago, the Mortons are as close as we get to restaurant royalty. Arnie (Morton’s The Steakhouse) was the king; his sons, Princes Peter, David, and Michael, are behind places such as Hard Rock Cafe, DMK Burger Bar, and N9NE Steakhouse. “For a long time, I thought restaurants had chosen me rather than me choosing them,” says Amy, one of Arnie’s four daughters. She hit it big in the 1990s with Mirador and the Blue Room in Old Town before switching to the only business more treacherous than running restaurants: raising three daughters.
Now back in the hospitality game, Morton could have gone in any number of directions. She went with her conscience, working with Connections for the Homeless to hire staffers. “Homelessness is an area that I always connected with in my life,” says Morton, 50. “My personal mission is to make a difference.” Found, a warm space with repurposed courthouse benches, Persian rugs, a 1920s minuteman bike, and a chalkboard ceiling covered in playful quotes, also rents out the entire restaurant at cost one Monday night a month to nonprofits for meetings and fundraisers. This is restaurant as community—an admirable mission even if the food weren’t good.
But it is. Found’s chef, Nicole Pederson, whose smart seafood at C-House rarely drew the buzz it deserved, now plays to a house full of diners in love with her shareable creations. A crock of lamb meatballs softer than clouds and painted with pistachio chimichurri and yogurt is an inventive nibble; the fried oyster tacos with bacon, red cabbage slaw, and tomatillos deliver a crisp and vinegary bounce. Pederson studs the menu with gems, from schmaltz-topped chicken liver mousse with bacon marmalade to roasted Brussels sprouts and squash with pumpkin seeds and harissa. I hereby vow to quit whining about small plates and simply enjoy when someone does them right.
The kitchen roasts a fantastic rainbow trout and serves it deboned but magically intact with dehydrated vegetable chips and thin sheets of crispy roasted kale. Heck, Found even uncovers inspired ways to approach pizza and sandwiches. The former emerges as lovely flatbreads spread with toppings such as sweet potato hummus, raw vegetables, and melted quark; the latter are open-faced behemoths of, say, shredded roasted pork shoulder with sweet potato mash and house-pickled veggies meant to be knife-and-forked by all. Both vanish quickly.
Found’s desserts lean to the rich and uncomplicated, such as an orange pound cake with Meyer lemon curd and toasted coconut gelato. More ambitious is the list of affordable wines and twisty cocktails, such as the refreshing Bitter Sophisticate, a Manhattan that dovetails perfectly with the agreeable mood.
In fact, Found has the happiest vibe I’ve encountered in years. Nearly everyone—the veteran staff and giddy customers in no hurry to leave—is in good spirits. The only stress stems from the no-reservations policy, which ensures that during peak times a nonstop parade of table hawks will spend an hour or more haunting the lounge area with their cabernets and jealous eyes. Found is exactly the warm community that Amy Morton envisioned, and we all want in.