• Jonit Bookheim
  • 29 Jul, 2011

Here’s a pic of me and my friend Rian out to lunch at the new Inspiration Kitchens that opened up 2 months ago in Garfield Park.  The restaurant is the newest social enterprise of Inspiration Corporation, a non-profit homeless service organization.  The delicious “contemporary American cuisine” is prepared and served by students and graduates of their food service training program.  Of course, there is an obvious connection between Inspiration Kitchens and Mata Traders as organizations with a double bottom line:  a sustainable, self-generating income and a social mission of being a vehicle providing people a way out of poverty.

I met Rian in 2002 when we were both working for Inspiration Corporation, so it was such a thrill for us to see the gorgeous new space.  The dining room has very cool wood elements including the original vaulted ceiling with wood beams and skylights and tables made out of re-purposed barn doors.  Through the skylights you can see the solar panels that they use to heat 55% of their water – and you can imagine that a restaurant uses a lot of water.  As beautiful as the dining room is, it’s what goes on behind the scenes that was most impressive.  The kitchen includes a huge space for training, where hundreds of individuals gain the skills they need to find employment and exit homelessness and poverty.  In addition, the back-of-house amenities include a bank of several computers that students and graduates use to write resumes and job search and a case management office for personalized support in creating their plan for changing their lives.

I think we look pretty cute in our Mata dresses.  Rian’s back for a visit from getting 2 Masters degrees in Europe (woot!).  She stopped by the Mata office/warehouse where she picked up that adorable black and white Oak Park dress.  Rian has been a big supporter of our fair trade dresses since Mata first started, and she actually ended up getting the Oak Park dress in yellow, too, and the Uptown dress in yellow and black and white, and the Lakeshore dress rose.

You may have noticed that picture on the shelf behind us and wanted to know who it is… It’s Founder of Inspiration Corporation, Lisa Nigro, at the White House with President Obama while receiving the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor. 

Lunch was super delicious.  We started out with three appetizers: the polenta fries with spicy green tomato chow chow for $4; the shrimp and three sisters grits americaine for $6; and a plate of seasonal pickles for $3 that included okra, white asparagus, and radishes.  For the main course, Rian and I split the shrimp po boy with herbed aioli, shredded greens, and pickled okra for $8 and the grilled steak sandwich with arugula, slow roasted tomato, gorgonzola, and fried leek for $9.  We finished off the meal with a yummy pear tart for $6.  I have to go back soon, as there were so many more items on the menu that I wanted to try.

The restaurant has its own garden where they grow veggies, greens, and herbs that end up on customers’ plates.

Other side of the garden (yes, that is corn you see):

Check out this lovely baby eggplant.

The restaurant is located at 3504 W. Lake Street in Chicago, across the street from Garfield Park’s beautiful trees and lagoon and just around the corner from the renowned Garfield Park Conservatory.  There is ample free parking in the restaurant’s parking lot and on Lake Street.  If you’re on public, the restaurant is only minutes away from the Central Park Green Line stop.

Wednesday – Friday
11am – 3pm Lunch
5pm – 9pm Dinner

9am – 2pm Brunch
5pm – 9pm Dinner

9am – 2pm Brunch

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