Lincoln Square has just gotten a new dining destination, and the neighborhood is embracing it. “We thought we’d start out with 80 covers a night, and we’ve never done anything below 100 since we opened,” laughs Justin Kaialoa, the executive chef at L&M Parkside, a sister spot to the excellent L&M Fine Foods market across the street. In a summer that hasn’t had a lot of big openings, it’s really not surprising that Parkside, with a hyper-local menu and approachable prices, is packed.
This is Kaialoa’s first executive chef gig, after a number of stints (and award nominations) at places like the Bristol and the Violet Hour. In fact, Kaialoa was in the process of redoing the food program at the Violet Hour when COVID hit last year. “We were going launch a tasting menu, and the next day the city closed,” he remembers. Their loss is Parkside’s gain, as Kaialoa’s menu brings a fine dining flair and attention to detail to this neighborhood restaurant.
What exactly does that mean? Take the chicken dish, a staple of every neighborhood restaurant. At Parkside, the tea-smoked Cornish hen starts with a traditional Southern sweet tea that’s combined with aromatic herbs and salt. The birds sit for 16 hours in the brine before being smoked over applewood and grilled over a Japanese-style binchotan grill. “Tea-smoked hen is not something I’ve seen in Chicago; it feels so aggressively Southern,” says Kaialoa. Another dish with a slightly less high-brow Southern influence is beef tartare served atop a hash brown with smoked tallow chimichurri, which took Kaialoa a year to get right. “It’s very velvety, the mouth feel is sensuous. It’s not like other tartare,” Kaialoa explains. That’s due to the addition of the smoked beef fat. The origin of the dish will be familiar to anyone who has spent time down South: “Where does this dish come from? Have you ever been to Waffle House at three in the morning?”
Southern flair is an undertone of a lot of items at Parkside, which isn’t surprising given that Kaialoa spent his formative culinary years in North Carolina. But that doesn’t mean diners should expect the menu to be dominated by heavy meat dishes; Kaialoa loves experimenting with vegetables. “A lot of our menu is vegan and vegetarian, not because I am, but because I find it interesting.” Take the carrot pate (yup, you read that right, carrot pate), served with pickled green strawberries. “At the end of the day, it’s just Jacques Pepin’s chicken liver mousse recipe, but we modified it,” Kaialoa says. Right now, to avoid over-taxing their limited staff, Parkside is only open for dinner. Expect a Southern-style brunch in the days to come, including a full program of housemade biscuits, and what Kaialoa promises will be the best shrimp and grits in town.
Parkside takes pride in “not cheating” as Kaialoa puts it — they’re making everything from scratch, culturing their own butter, making preserves, pickling, juicing, and trying to cut waste as much as they can. “Don’t throw those collard stems away, blanch and pickle them; if you’re juicing something, the byproduct is made into tea,” explains Kaialoa. “I’ve lived in Chicago for five years, I know what’s coming in the winter — we’re canning everything, so we’ll have peaches when it’s cold outside.”