When Longman & Eagle (2657 N. Kedzie Ave., Logan Square) first opened in 2010, it was at the forefront of the then-overwhelming series of gastropubs that seemed to be taking over the entire Chicago dining scene. The restaurant went on to great things, including hours-long waits and a Michelin star, but its fire has dimmed a tiny bit in recent years (the spot has since lost its Michelin star, along with opening chef Jared Wentworth). The new chef, Maxwell Robbins, wants to change that.
“The opportunity, not of opening a new restaurant but of redefining a restaurant that people love and care about, was very romantic to me,” says Robbins. Robbins actually used to be a regular at Longman & Eagle (during a stint at the dearly departed nearby spot Telegraph) and admits that some of his more recent visits to the restaurant weren’t perfect – but to him, that’s part of the fun. “I feel like there is an opportunity with the food to get it back to the same level that drew people in the first place.”
What does that actually mean for Robbins, who in addition to Telegraph has done time at Blackbird, Purple Pig, and Soho House? Ditching the pretense and cooking what he wants to cook. “The food here is like the food I would cook when you come over to my house,” explained Robbins. “We’re not going to put microgreens on top to make things fancy, we’re not going to do quotas and have salmon on the menu because we have to.” Instead, his goal is to create a stripped-down version of Midwestern cuisine that uses nothing that isn’t necessary. “Lots of chefs baste their steak in thyme and butter; I don’t want my steak to taste like thyme and butter, I want it to taste like dry-aged Slagel beef. When we brine meat, we only use salt and sugar; we buy the best product and intensify the flavor of it.”
Many chefs talk endlessly about cooking “simple” food, but Robbins may have my favorite way to describe what that means. He calls it the “Cool Ranch Dorito” theory: “When you make food, why would I charge $18 for a dish if it doesn’t taste as good as a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos?” In other words, you might add foams or rare ingredients to a plate, but if it doesn’t taste amazing in the end, who cares?
That combination of simple, delicious and straightforward is what guides the new Longman & Eagle menu. Foie gras, for example, doesn’t come with bread and only costs $8, so people can both afford it and get a taste of what it really is. Pig head on the charcuterie list isn’t covered with a bunch of spices—“We want someone who orders a pig head to have a pig head!” Robbins says.
All that said, some of your old favorites haven’t gone anywhere. The chicken and waffles and the wild boar sloppy joe are too famous, and too popular, to get rid of – but they’ve been slightly tweaked.
Robbins is focused on quality, but he’s not really concerned with getting back the restaurant’s star. “Our primary goal is to cook great food. To worry about tomorrow means that we’re not focused on what we’re doing right now.”