Stephanie Izard took to the kitchen at an early age and hasn’t looked back.
An accomplished chef before she ever graced the screen as a “Top Chef”, Izard stepped more into the spotlight after winning Bravo’s culinary competition in season four. Already a restaurateur pre-television, she began hosting pop-up dinners around her home city of Chicago shortly thereafter, tagging it ”the wandering goat dinner series” and offering diners a preview of what was to come of her next restaurant. The dinners, held in secret locations throughout the city, turned out to be wildly popular, and only led to the anticipation at the opening of Girl and the Goat in the summer of 2010.
Defined as a “shared-plates gastropub”, Girl and the Goat has, just as Izard had intended, rocketed to success. The restaurant has garnered rave reviews, from Saveur and Chicago magazines to the often-hard-to-please online review community. The menu, as described on the restaurant’s website, “consists of 30 items: 10 vegetarian, 10 meat, and 10 fish, as she likes to appeal to all tastes and gastronomical creeds”, changes frequently, and has included items like pan fried shishito peppers, ham frittes, bourbon-poached lobster and crab with goat belly, and wood oven roasted pig face. As Bon Appetit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton noted at Izard’s appearance last January at the Beaver Creek Master Chef Classic, some guests are waiting an average of three months to reserve a table at the favored new eatery. But the food isn’t the only thing bringing patrons to the Westside restaurant.
“I lived in the city for about 15 years and now I’m out in the suburbs. I come to the city for good food and have heard lots of good things about this restaurant so I wanted to be here and a lot of my friends have been here already,” said diner Kerri Matlock. “I really like the vibe here – very cool and laid back, and the décor is phenomenal. I’m an architect so I can appreciate the interior structural design, the charred wood piece in the center of the dining room is really incredible. I love it here. I’d come back in a heartbeat.”
In celebration of Izard’s semifinalist nomination for the 2011 James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant, I sent my trusty sidekick, Jessica, to the lauded Chicago spot to pick the chef’s brain about her inspiration for the restaurant and just how nervous she is for the finalist announcements.
Jessica: I’ve heard you have an interesting story about where the name of the restaurant came from…
Stephanie: Yeah, in French, my last name, “Izard”, is a type of mountain goat that lives in the Pyrenees Mountains and has big horns and such. Originally, the name of the restaurant was going to be “Drunken Goat”, since I’ve been known to enjoy lots of wine or other drinks from time to time, but it’s the name of a cheese in New York and they didn’t want to share the name.
J: What are your philosophies behind the restaurant?
S: Let’s have fun! People that come in here and the room turns into a big party. All the guests are having fun but also everyone back in the kitchen is laughing and having a good time. Even though we get busy, all the staff is having a good time. We spend a lot of time here and work hard for this place but we also want it to just be fun and casual. No pretense.
J: You ran your own restaurant prior to Girl and the Goat. What have been some of the advantages to having that previous experience?
S: This restaurant is a little bigger, which is a challenge, but I also have three times the staff. The first place I did by myself. I was an owner, I answered all the messages in the morning by myself, I managed did all the books everything and this time around I have a huge support staff, work with great people. Here, I have my two business partners who deal with the city or getting permits, licensing, so many things. It’s just nice to be able to focus on the staff and the food and be able to go off and do events like Beaver Creek. And do all the things that I want to do [outside the restaurant].
J: So, apparently there’s a rumor that you’re opening something next door…
S: We are! It’s not directly next door, it’s about 50 yards away so we can yell down “Hello, what do you guys need?”
J: You could use tin can phones.
S: Yeah, totally say we’re being green – “oh, we use old tin cans to talk to each other.”
J: Right! Vintage recycled tin cans!
S: That’d be sweet! So yeah, we’re opening up a place called The Little Goat. We started working on opening another restaurant the second week we were here because as you can see, there lot of people who work here in the kitchen – we make all of our breads and butcher all of these whole animals – and when you do that, a big space suddenly becomes really small. So we wanted to get another space open so we can spread out a little bit, and we just decided to do a diner. I thought, “I just want to do a diner” and then we went on a trip to NY and ate at a bunch of diners and I realized I just want to do something that’s an old-school diner with a little bit of the Goat feel, I guess. Where it’s just like fun and laid back.
J: How are you feeling about the James Beard award nomination?
S: I’m excited – I’m going to find out soon if we’re on the short list. I try not to get to excited about things because I get really let down because I’m the most competitive person you’ll ever meet. I cry when I lose Monopoly. So it would be amazing. We’ve had just such a great year since we opened and I just really couldn’t ask for more accolades, but James Beard is every chef’s dream and I’m all tingly just talking about it. There are just so many great restaurants out there this year. Just to get to go to the awards as a nominee… Just to be one of the nominees would be awesome.
As Stephanie noted, the James Beard finalist list will be announced in Portland on Monday morning. I’ll be in attendance for the announcements, and finalists will be posted next Tuesday here on Daily Blender. Good luck everyone!
~Jennifer Heigl and Jessica Hustoles
*Photo credit: Jessica Hustoles / Daily Blender; Headshot: Stephanie Izard