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Forks and Corks Chicago: SCHWA - Chicago’s tiny piece of culinary heaven

Posted by Sandy Baggs on

A guide to everything BYOB in the city of Chicago (from someone who knows nothing about food except how to eat it). It will include comments on all sorts of BYOBs throughout the city. It will speak to the food, the atmosphere, the service, and even occasionally how I feel a day or two after. It will also include wine, beer, and alcohol shops in the near vicinity and how well they cater to my experience.

SCHWA - Chicago’s tiny piece of culinary heaven

DISCLAIMER: The experience I had at Schwa was unlike anything I have ever encountered in my life. I am going to try and explain what happened that night but unfortunately did not take notes so it will not be as detailed as I would like.

To talk about Schwa, you must begin at the beginning and that is trying to get a reservation. This journey started about 8 months ago when I drove past and noticed the restaurant for the first time. I had remembered hearing how good it was 3 years ago. So in my grandiose thinking I called up and left message. I wanted a reservation for 10 for the next available time. At the time, I had no idea that the dining room only sat about 25 but I figured they’d get back to me either way. After a few days and still no word back, I did some research and realized that I was basically shit out of luck. So I called again and again planning on making a smaller reservation for 2 or 4. Over the next seven months, I called about 3 times a month and all I got was that the message box was full.

I had given up hope until one day out of the blue, my friend has an article up about the Chef, Michael Carlson, on her g-chat. It was a good omen, so I immediately called and got through, it was the most panicked reservation I have even made in my life. It was akin to being a freshman in high school and Lyla Garriety was talking to me. It wasn’t really a conversation but more of a dazed and confused meandering between two people. I had no control over what I was saying except, “reservation for four please.”

“When would you like to come in?”

“Reservation for four please.”

Finally my survivals skills kicked in and I completed my reservation. That done, the only thing left to do was get the wine.

Two days before I was supposed to go in, a funny thing happened, I was at Lush on Chicago Ave talking to a guy about going to Schwa and what wines I should get. Then my phone rings and I realize it’s someone from Schwa. I am thinking this is obviously to confirm my reservation. Nope… they are returning my message from 8 months ago. I stupidly said that I am coming in and didn’t make another reservation (F Me) and they were like oh yeah your phone number looked familiar. Unbelievable!!! At least they have a system, even if it takes a little time, they do get back to you.

Alcohol instructions:

For four: 2 whites and 2 reds – The wine should be on the lighter side for both red and white.

We chose Champagne (Ferrari Perle, an Italian sparkler, and Simchic Radikon  which is made from a grape called rebula and is a Slovenia white). For the reds, we went with a Bordeaux that no one seems to remember and a Pinot Noir that was great (J Winery, Russian River Valley). All the wines ranged from $25-$40.

Also, bring something for the Chefs as stated above, we also brought a bottle of Jamo.  Jamo was good and safe but the next time I go I think I am going to bring something a little more creative.

The men of SCHWA

Finally the day arrives, the reservation was for the late seating (9 pm) and we were told to arrive no earlier than 9 (there is no room to wait at the restaurant and there is really no place to go and wait nearby).  When we walked into this overheated (because the kitchen is open) small space that fits no more than 25 we are eventually greeted by a nonchalant fellow who asks us about our reservation and eventually seats us and takes our wine.  The meal will take about 3-4 hours and we knew this so it was time to sit back and enjoy.

I am just going to go over the highlights, because I didn’t take notes.

Before I get to that, I want to make something very clear about the level of quality of this meal… this meal was  off the charts.

Their bad was great, their great was better, and their best was out of this world.

The meal:

We started out with a palate cleanser—a bloody Mary infused shot.  Light and simple…what a bloody Mary should be.

Instead of the crab, which is now on their website menu, we had an octopus and prosciutto dish– if anyone knows what it was called please let me know.  Either way the octopus was braised to perfection and the prosciutto was crisp…delicious in both texture and taste.

The apple pie soup- a savory sweet dessert that wasn’t.  It was surprisingly everything I thought it would be and yet nothing I had quite experienced. 

Biscuits and Gravy—my God did this smelled amazing!  The experience was about the food and taking it in with all five senses, and my nose loved this course about as much as my mouth.

The last thing I want to talk about was my favorite course which is not on the online menu. It was a short rib with marshmallow, graham cracker, and chocolate.  It smelled of campfire and tasted like nothing I have ever had before.  It was a sweet meaty recollection of my youth and I am thankful that I was able to savor it.

A few things of note:

The music is loud – either hip hop or heavy metal—but  you don’t really notice it because the food is so damn good.

Go to the bathroom. You will go through the kitchen and see the cooks working their tails off.

There are two people who describe the food to you, one is almost incomprehensible.   Add that to the wine you are drinking and shots you may be taking and it is a fun time just trying to figure out what the beautiful piece of artwork on the plate is.

You will drink someone else’s booze.

It’s a small space and you will converse with the strangers  around you.

This is great place to bring a date, but I wouldn’t call it romantic.

$110 is a bargain

You and your clothes will smell like a campfire and the next day you will smell your clothes and smile.

To conclude:

Schwa is food centric, FOOD ABOVE ALL.  From the reservation,  to the service, to the music, everything is about the food.  You come for the food and at Schwa, the food is the only thing on the forefront of everyone’s mind. SO THE FOOD IS AMONG THE BEST and everything else is well—just  uniquely Schwa.


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