No need to trek to the South to find a rich, creamy, perfectly cooked plate of shrimp ‘n’ grits. Now you merely have to “trek” over to Diversey and Clark and swing by 2 Sparrows. Open for breakfast and lunch, this popular spot is plating up well executed farm to table comfort cuisine with a handful of surprises you won’t see anywhere else. On the weekend it can get busy, but it’s well worth the wait. I often stop by for a late lunch and grab a spot at the bar. Yes, there’s a full bar with excellent craft cocktails created by co-owner Steven Fladung.
One side of the menu features breakfast, the other lunch. They’re both available during the entire service, so anyone is pretty sure to find something they’re in the mood for. We started with two of the Sparrow’s home made sodas. I ordered the Back Patio. A light and refreshing soda with fresh strawberry, fragrant basil and a touch of balsamic. Extremely pleasant for the season, the balsamic added the perfect bitter note that balanced the sweetness of the fruit.
Jill’s Blueberry Smash was equally delicious but much more fruit driven. At least fifteen fresh blueberries float in the sweet and tangy soda. No straw will do for this one. I especially enjoyed all the bits of blueberry that washed over my tongue with each sip. A refreshing and palate awakening start to lunch.
We ordered the Shrimp ‘n’ Grits. I was told by a reliable source that 2 Sparrow’s S&G are the best around and actually rival the best in the South. We came hungry and ready to eat well. We decided to start with the classic Southern dish as an appetizer to share. We sat back and contemplated our next course.
The kitchen was nice enough to send out a complimentary homemade raspberry pop-tart along with the Shrimp n Grits. It was light and flaky, not dry one bit. The filling was ample and very flavorful. Not too sweet, a little tangy. I enjoyed the bits fruit and seed as well. The dish was finished with a light vanilla glaze – very well done.
We were surprised by the kitchen a second time when two full portions of Shrimp ‘n’ Grits were gently placed before us. In retrospect, we were glad we ended up eating two full entrees because this initial dish was absolutely heavenly. I can confidently say this is one of the best 50 dishes in the city of Chicago.
The grits were perfect. Alone, without any other element, they stood out as a perfect incarnation of this food. Buttery, rich yet light and texturally gorgeous. You could feel each grit kernel pass across your tongue being carried by a gentle ribbon of butter and natural oils. When you first mix the savory, earthy gravy and take your second bite you realize you’re in for a truly special gastro experience.
The shrimp were cooked to perfection. A light char, well seasoned, the flesh was a lovely clean white and the texture was tender and complemented the silky smooth gravy well. Collard greens were as good as they get – anyone would agree. They were tender, not fibrous, rich with flavor but not overpowering the plate as a whole.
Each and every bite reminded me how fantastic the grits were. Within a few minutes of enjoying our plates we agreed we would return to 2 Sparrows specifically FOR the Shrimp ‘n’ Grits. You aren’t human if you don’t fall in love with this Southern comfort staple perfected in the North.
We would have been pleased if that were all we consumed during the visit but we settled in for the next course. Two Sparrow’s Pork Belly Sandwich is served on a house baked biscuit. The slab of pork is generous – about an inch thick. A nice crust covers the exterior that reveals a tender extremely moist center. A ramp kimchee that’s fermented in house for almost 90 days is what makes this preparation special.
The sandy is finished with a simple sunny side up egg. This is a unique delicacy; a strong funky flavor with a nice acidic backbone from the kimchee cuts through the richness of the fatty belly and runny farm egg. Without a doubt this was a knife and forker. The biscuit was light and flaky and you could tell that the planning and execution of the dish had received the required attention.
Our other selection was a familiar dish that you rarely see presented in any way other than the traditional presentation – 2 Sparrow’s Gyro. A deliciously soft and warm pita is topped with a single thick cut slab of (lamb) Gyro meat. The sandwich is easier to eat than the many thinner slices of Gyro and the charred crust on the outside was a great contrast in texture from the soft warm meaty inside.
Home made Tzatziki sauce, fresh sliced tomatoes and super thinly shaved red onion accompany the sandwich. The warm pita is key. So often I’ll order a Gyro and the pita will be cold, dry and sometimes stale. As with most sandwiches, the success starts with the bread.
You cannot have a great sandwich without great bread. The insides can be solid, but great bread takes the sum of its parts to the next level. 2 Sparrows succeeded in crafting a familiar sandwich with a completely revamped presentation – and it works – really well.
We will return shortly to 2 Sparrows for the Shrimp ‘n’ Grits alone but will absolutely stay for the cocktails, sweets and just about every other item on the menu. I’m glad they change up their selection according to what’s seasonal, but if they take the Shrimp ‘n’ Grits off the menu, there will be hell to pay. For real.
Don’t forget to tell ’em Hungry Hungry sent ya.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat!