Recently I learned of Crop To Cup, a Chicago-based company which works directly with coffee farmers in Africa, and immediately became a fan. Not only is their concept socially and morally appealing, the coffee is darn good. They do more than support farmers halfway around the world, though; they also support local businesses.
Last Friday I attended their second Odd Pairs, an event inviting “independent, local (use your best judgment) grower/ manufacturer/ retailer/ restaurant and anyone else that deals with food as their life’s work” to submit creative pairings that also have to taste good. All of the featured pairs at this event tasted wonderful, so much so that I didn’t envy DC Crenshaw his job of judging the best couple.
That’s what really impressed me. There were fourteen companies from the Chicagoland area that are simply excellent at what they do and, from what I can see, simply excellent in general. Here’s a summary of the pairs and a quick introduction to the companies:
Domain Dupage French Country Ale Braised Dietzler Farms Short Ribs, sweet potato mash, seedling apple cider reduction, onion frizzles
City Provisions: This is a new kind of catering company. Cleetus Friedman works directly with local farmers and creates custom menu plans for his clientele. He also hosts farm dinners during the warmer months, bringing guests on tours of the farm and serving them under the stars surrounded by the land that grew their meals, and in the cooler months they host supper clubs.
Two Brothers Brewing Company: This microbrewery was started by….two brothers! Jim and Jason Ebel love beer so much that their mother told them to “either open a brewery or shut up.” Fortunately, they did the former, and since 1996 they’ve been crafting beers they would serve their family. They offer tours at their facility every Saturday and you can find their brews at Binny’s.
Raspberry fig pie with hazelnut streusel and chocolate honey buzz mead
Sugarkist Pies: You may not normally think of a baker being in touch with what’s in season, but then you wouldn’t know Jane Roberts. This Lula Cafe and Blackbird alum uses that as her focus when she’s deciding what to bake. That’s evidenced by where you can find her creations: Logan Square Farmers Market (sadly, now closed for the season), Provenance Food and Wine, and Green Grocer Chicago.
Wild Blossom Meadery: It takes two million flowers to make a bottle of mead. According to their website “each sip of refreshing Wild Blossom mead renews the earth.” And the bonus is that it tastes really, really good!
Black bean and banana empanada with blood orange infused olive oil
Simone’s: This is a new restaurant in the Pilsen neighborhood that uses recycled materials for its decor. We’re not just talking old water bottles or recycled soda cans. The bar top used to be a bowling alley lane and the table tops were previously used by high school chemistry students.
Sonoma Farm: While it sounds like this olive oil company is based in California, it’s actually a Chicago company. Granted, the produce doesn’t come from around here, but they can be forgiven since we can’t exactly grow olives around these parts.
Smoked brisket slider with fig earl grey preserves
Goddess and Grocer: This is like a playground for foodies. Cheeses, meats, pastas and sauces, wine, beer and more all offered by gourmands. They have three locations: one in the Gold Coast, one in Bucktown, and another on Elston.
Rare Bird Preserves: Don’t think you’ll see a whole lot of Ball jars in this cupboard. Their currant (ha – get it?) flavors include apple plum hibiscus, peach lavender, and fig earl grey. They infuse “floral and herbal pairings with hand cut fruit”.
Pear brandy & ginger liqueur cocktail with a cinnamon sugar rimmed glass
Koval Distillery: Did you know there’s a distillery in Chicago? Neither did I, until Odd Pairs. Located on the north side, the husband and wife team of Sonat and Robert hand peel ginger and de-stem pears. Koval is certified both organic and kosher. And they make a mean martini.
The Crafted Cocktail: Jennifer Contraveos knows cocktails, so much so that she’s made it her business. She’s now a mixologist-for-hire, creating innovative cocktails for bars, restaurants, and companies like Koval.
Brasil fazenda cachoeira coffee paired with wisconsin brun-uusto cheese
Crop To Cup Coffee Co.: While I mentioned Africa in the introduction, they also work with farmers in the Americas, both South and Central. In addition to coffee you can also purchase art “From The Source“.
Provenance Food and Wine: I first heard of Provenance at the Logan Square Farmers Market (I’m getting to be very sad this market is closed for the season). I stopped by their booth and picked up a garlic basil cheese. When I saw they were at Odd Pairs I practically jumped up and down and said “I have got to come see your store!” They specialize in seasonal produce, artisanal cheeses and affordable wine.
Coffee and cinnamon crumble bread pudding with caramel drizzle
Bean & Body: If you’re worried about the rain forests disappearing, drink Bean & Body. A portion of their proceeds goes to their Protected Grounds Initiative. They’re also good for your body by infusing “essential oils of superfruits, healthful herbs and spices with complex characteristics”.
Sweet Miss Giving’s Bakery: Over 50% of their profits help Chicago House and their formerly homeless and men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS. Their motto is “Unquestionably Kind, Unreasonably Good”. Beyond their mission, their products are preservative-free and they spend a year testing and tasting.
The next Odd Pairs is on March 26. This event is very limited, so I recommend keeping an eye on these guys!
Oh – and the winner of the best pairs? Simone’s and Sonoma Farm! (The cranberry aioli on the black bean/banana empanadas is what put DC over the edge.)
DC Crenshaw and the ladies from Simone’s
Neil Balkcom of Crop To Cup & TLC