Top Chef Champion Heads Award-Winning Restaurant

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Melanie Langa

Girl & The Goat features a bar on the left and an open kitchen in the back.

Loud music is pumping. The bartender is furiously mixing drinks, and the chatter of hungry patrons is superseded only by the clatter of forks on ceramic plates.  The description matches the setting: a hip Chicago restaurant known for unique, tasty food and beverages. The only surprise is that this specific restaurant, newly opened Girl & The Goat, is absolutely packed at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Girl & The Goat is the long-awaited brainchild of executive chef Stephanie Izard. Izard garnered increased culinary recognition after winning the fourth season of Top Chef, a reality show that pits professional or aspiring chefs against each other in a series of challenges.

Izard, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, has always wanted to open a restaurant with an atmosphere similar to that of Girl & The Goat. “I owned a restaurant before for about three years and it was a lot smaller. It was still casual but it wasn’t quite this casual, and I always just wanted to open a place that you just go with your friends, have a few drinks and eat food and it’s not pretentious. This is where I want to eat,” she said.

Girl & The Goat projects a welcoming and open impression. The tables are close together, some booths are even connected, and the kitchen is open to the dining area. The restaurant, though it occupies a large space, feels cozy because of the variety of small areas within the larger restaurant. There is a lounge section with couches and low tables, a bar with stools, booths and tables.

The executive chef comes to oversee the kitchen and cook with the rest of her staff on a daily basis. Izard has shaped not only the menu but also the other aspects of running a restaurant. Even the name of the eatery is personal.

“My last name is actually a type of goat in French: Izard. It is a mountain goat that lives in the Pyrenees

A reproduction of the painting that inspired the name of Izard's restaurant.

Mountains,” she said. Izard also attributes the unique name to a painting hung at the front of the building. “There was a little one like that in my bedroom. It is a girl and a goat so yeah, that is where it came from.”

Girl & The Goat serves small plates in three different categories. There are ten vegetarian dishes, ten fish dishes and ten meat dishes on the menu. The menu changes occasionally to suit the seasonality of available ingredients.

Izard’s personal favorite dish has been a constant on the menu since Girl & The Goat’s opening. “My favorite thing is the beef tongue. It has been on our menu since the restaurant first opened. We take beef tongue and we braise it overnight and we make fresh masa chips. It is really tasty,” Izard said.

Other distinctive dishes include wood oven roasted pig face, goat liver mousseline, sautéed cod cheeks, and chickpea fritters.

Girl & The Goat opened in the summer of 2010 and has been frequently recommended even in the short time it has been open. The Chicago Tribune named it “The Best New Restaurant of 2010,” The New York Times mentioned it as a place to eat while spending 36 hours in Chicago and both Izard and her restaurant have drawn local as well as national attention.

“We were pushing for it and we worked really hard to make sure that people were talking about the restaurant before it opened and stuff, but I mean it has been unbelievable. We’ve been really lucky,” she said.

Izard's favorite dish, beef tongue with masa.

Although Izard lends a name to the face of Girl & The Goat, her restaurant has lived up to the hype. “There are always new restaurants opening in the city, but I think there weren’t as many because of the recession and everything like that. And I think there was just a lot of hype because I was on a T.V. show,” said Izard.

Local as well as national sources have validated Izard’s vision as well as Girl & The Goat’s unique style and tasty menu. “It took two years to open the restaurant. It was building and building and building, and then people actually like came in and realized ‘Wow it’s actually really good’ so then they got excited. Well, that is what I like to think anyway.”