Okay, we’re all familiar by now with “farm-to-table” dining. But how about “meadow-to-table dining?”
That’s what Chicago restaurateurs Greg Mohr and Scott Weiner (The Fifty/50, Roots Handmade Pizza, The Bleeding Heart Bakery & Café) have going on at Homestead, their just-opened West Town eatery.
And while the American contemporary Homestead uses many “green” design elements, the greenest is a showpiece rooftop organic “food meadow,” which can be viewed through the 70-seat restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows or directly from the adjacent 85-seat outdoor patio.
Designed and installed by Chicago’s Rooftop Greenworks, the 1,000-square foot L-shaped field currently has 130-plus plant species growing, Mohr says. There are a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers “that complement each other well and go together well.” There are also two massive hanging, vertical wall gardens overlooking the meadow.
The idea is to incorporate the rooftop farm’s fresh-plucked ingredients (such as carrots, strawberries, parsley, cilantro, edible flowers) into chef John Wayne Formica’s seasonal fare and mixologist Revae Schneider’s creative and unique cocktails. The farm even has its own professional manager/cultivator — Mike Repkin of Repkin Biosystems. And for now, the restaurant plans to only stay open during the city’s spring-through-fall peak growing season.
Homestead sits above Mohr and Weiner’s side-by-side eateries — Roots and The Bleeding Heart. (Diners enter through Roots.) And the two owners invested a substantial amount of money to bring their visionary project to life, Mohr says.
“We had to take the entire roof off [and rebuild it] to support the meadow and everything we put up there,” says Mohr, who became highly committed to the green movement after opening the organic The Bleeding Heart last summer.
But ultimately, he believes the added costs were worth it. “It was the right thing to do,” he says.
The owners also brought their green vision indoors, as they worked with Heather Shouse of Chicago’s Bottle and Branch to redesign the space that once served as Roots’ private party room.
Other than the new decking which needed to meet specific city codes, “I wanted everything to be reclaimed,” or to use existing materials, Mohr says.
The eatery’s richly stained maple flooring, for example, is original to the 115-year-old building. And custom-made tables — which also fill the simply furnished patio — were constructed from a plethora of wood scraps, old farmhouse doors, tin ceiling pieces and more. For now, they’re paired with the basic wood and vinyl café chairs leftover from the space’s Roots days. Mohr ultimately will mate the rough-hewn tables with mix-and-match antique chairs.
Live greenery is also a key design element, and is used liberally throughout the room.
“Instead of using wallpaper or anything else, we used actual birch,” says Mohr of Homestead’s striking live birch bark wallcovering.
Shouse attached a collection of air plants to the bark, along with a series of charming plant-filled framed terrariums, which were crafted from old wooden barrels.
“It’s definitely a unique look that you don’t often see,” Mohr says.
There’s also a rapidly growing, live plant wall on the restaurant’s north end. And each table is topped with its own glass globe centerpiece. The orbs are filled with preserved plants, which Mohr learned were more environmentally friendly than fresh-cut flowers.
Homestead “is definitely a place where you feel nature, whether you are sitting inside or outside,” Mohr says. “I don’t want to sound corny, but it’s definitely the way of the future. It’s the smart way to design things.”
1924 W. Chicago Ave, 2nd floor
Chicago, IL 60622