When city planners wrapped their heads around where to put the new Divvy bicycle stations that are part of the drive to make a healthier lifestyle more possible for all Chicagoans, they put one such station on Division and Wood. Although they probably hadn’t realized it, they put this healthy living landmark just a short block away from another—Prasino, Wicker Park restaurant. Prasino is arguably the first and most serious attempt in Chicago to transform dining classics of all kinds into healthier alternatives—for clientele and planet alike.
Yes, this is that gorgeous and inviting patio you see stretching lavishly on the 1800 block of Division that beckons you when you walk or ride by.
As beautiful inside as it is out, Prasino now will have a remodeled bar set to open the end of this month that will raise its aesthetic appeal even higher.
Prasino, which means “green” in Greek, was largely inspired by a family’s quest to make the healthy living they have embraced the driving philosophy of the restaurant.
Their website states, “At prasino, we believe dining well means living well. As a premiere eco-friendly family of restaurants, we have made it our mission to serve only the highest quality, farm-to-table ingredients for our guests to savor…
“..every choice we make, from our food to our restaurant design to our kitchen facilities, reflects our respect for a sustainable environment. Our priority is serving hormone/anti-biotic free meats, sustainable seafood, organic produce and eggs. Every effort is made to buy locally whenever possible, but we have also sought out exceptional ingredients from around the country from like-minded vendors.”
The inside story is that owner and entrepreneur Teddy Maglaris’ heart and mind was swayed by his cousin Peggy, who nursed her husband back to health from a bout with cancer with thoughtful attention to ensuring his healthy diet. That family event was the original inspiration for the health-focus of Prasino but today it extends much further. Above and beyond the menu markings of gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian, the staff is trained to be sensitive to all patrons’ health needs, allergies, and choices, according to manager Keith Mallini. Mallini also says, “Our food is mainly organic and local. We don’t use high fructose corn syrup. Most of our wines and spirits are organic as well and 90% of what we serve is locally sourced. We are the only restaurant of this type in Wicker Park.”
This is all very good news for those of us who try to keep a healthy kitchen at home and sometimes dread that our restaurant dining experiences, delicious or not, are undoing all that effort to shop and eat organic and leave the processed foods behind.
Executive Chef Jared Case who made his mark earlier in Chicago in the then award-winning Marché Restaurant in the West Loop said this focus on healthy eating is exactly what lured him to put his many talents to work for Prasino. Case says, “Teddy sat me down and said he wanted everything to be organic and healthy. In my career nobody had ever given me this challenge. It means constantly experimenting with different cooking methods to create gastriques that will carry flavors without loading food down with unhealthy ingredients and also re-thinking everything.”
It’s telling that Case said if there were one dish that represents what they are doing at Prasino it is their dessert “yigourti me meli”. It’s so simple – Greek yogurt, honey, walnut, mint—but the secret is that it is not any old organic Greek yogurt or honey. I had to ask twice because I was sure that they had somehow whipped the yogurt to give it a texture that suggested whipped cream as much as yogurt. Not so! There was special preparation by Case and his team of chefs to taste every possible Greek yogurt they could source until they hit upon this one. Likewise, the thyme honey—a rare non-local ingredient on the menu imported from Greece—makes it especially delectable. Keeping it simple and emphasizing fresh ingredients is THE secret of Prasino, according to Case and tastebuds alike.
Case delights in how simple their preparations are—using wood burning stoves to keep the salmon exquisitely delicious, for example, in a preparation they are planning to add to the menu. The grilled lemon and tomatoes kept
it clean and simple, just the way Case likes it and hopes true foodies will too.
At Prasino, freshness of ingredients matters most.
This emphasis on freshness was immediately apparent with the two sushi dishes we sampled—the crunchy shrimp and salmon roll and the summer roll.
The latter was especially a standout because of the chunks of yuzu marinated tuna generously topping each piece.
Another standout was the fork-cuttable short ribs cooked in a tasty truffle-mushroom cabernet sauce and served with a white cheddar cauliflower gratin that was a perfect complement.
Chef Case takes great pride, as well he should, saying “we nailed it!” about many of what one might think are standard menu items and not-so-standard innovations. One of these is the Greek chicken, also cooked simply and served with street food style roasted potatoes that was extremely juicy and tender.
Yes, you can get a BLT at Prasino, but it’s not like any BLT you’ve ever tasted before. In lieu of bacon, pork belly is used and the jalapeno gastrique makes this comfort food with a welcomed spice extra that lands it squarely in the foodie’s corner.
The cocktails designed by mixologist Todd Ekis were also very remarkable in how they use unusual ingredients and combinations to delight.
My husband, nicknamed by a friend as “Dragon Boy” because of his love of hot food really enjoyed the “Tropical Heat” cocktail that includes jalapeño tequila, among other ingredients.
Although I’m relatively hot spice shy I loved it too, seeming to show that there was expertise in bringing the flavor of hot without the blowtorch peppers.
Another very enjoyable cocktail is aptly named “oolala” and has a unique and tasty use of raspberry sage syrup creating a savory confection not lacking in gin and liqueur wallop.
Talk to Executive Chef Case for 10 minutes and you want to eat everything on Prasino’s menu. Talk to him for one-half hour and you’ll likely want to quit your day job for a chance to work in his kitchen.
Whether it’s coming up with basil-infused omelets that are football shaped or finding THE way to keep menu items fresh or any detail of making Prasino work for foodies and health-conscious alike, Case is alive with passion. He shares that he was only five years old when he announced to his parents that he wanted to be a chef. Case will also tell you that as a 24-year old executive chef elsewhere he made his share of mistakes that he learned from and that inform how he runs his kitchens today with help of local executive chefs, pastry chefs, sushi chefs and cooking staffs in Prasino locations in Wicker Park, Rosemont, La Grange and St. Charles, Missouri.
Prasino has big plans to expand nationally in the coming year.
Hint: Mark September 6 on your calendar for their second anniversary celebration when they will be serving free hors d’oeuvres in their new bar.
Location: 1846 West Division, Chicago, il 60622
ph: (312) 878-1212
Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and beverages—
Monday - Thursday 9 am to 11 pm
Friday 9 am to midnight
Saturday 9 am to midnight
Sunday 9 am to 10 pm
Per captions, select photos courtesy of Prasino.
All other photos: Peter Kachergis