We’d postulate that if Chef Joe Frillman cooked your family meals year round, you’d never, ever have to remind your children to eat their vegetables. In fact, you might find them stealing back for a second, third, (fifth), serving of asparagus or bok choy or ramps. Frillman’s vegetable dishes are wizardry, and a welcome offering for consumers seeking plant-based comfort during the COVID era. More than five years ago, Frillman began thinking in earnest about opening his own restaurant and he debated an array of culinary genres. To the delight of many, veggies won out.
Joe’s brother Tim owns Frillman Farms, which offers a vast array of heirloom seasonal vegetable, eggs, and honey. The farm could provide Chef Frillman’s new culinary venture with ultra fresh, high quality produce, and would make an eco-friendly, local-sourcing restaurant a plausible possibility. In 2017, Daisies arrived on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, a short drive from Tim’s farms in Prairie View and St. Joseph.
“Apart from my brother having a farm, I think it was the environmental concerns, honestly, that led me to this restaurant,” says Chef Frillman, “We saw the impact that restaurants have on the environment, and I was just like, I don’t want to be profiting from that. I wanted to see if we could just change a little bit, and show that you can work with a few farms and make amazing, real food.”
Nearly all those who visit Daisies’ woody storefront dining room would say Frillman has wildy succeeded. Like Frillman, the Daisies interior is a blend of effortless hipness, straightforward practicality, and good Midwestern cheer. Named for his grandmother, decorated with his sister’s art, and landscaped by his mother, Daisies is nearly part of the Frillman family.
“I grew up on the north side of Chicago, but there’s a lot of Russian and German and Polish in my background, and they have a lot of influence in the restaurant too,” says Frillman. Though Frillman is not Italian, his work and studies in Italy are especially celebrated on Daisies’ menu.
“We like to say that if the Midwest was a region in Italy, this is what the food would look like. We’re by no means an Italian restaurant, but we draw a lot from their culture and cuisine,” he explains. “It’s a very Italian philosophy to eat what’s in season around you, as simply as possible.”
Daisies is lauded for their micro-seasonal approach, and diners are learning to ask for their favorite dishes by season. Frillman also has clientele that come back during specific times of year for particular dishes that only last a few weeks; his ‘Overpriced Tomato’ toast – heirlooms on sourdough with bone marrow and balsamic – is a crowd favorite. While Daisies is veggie-focused, they also include thoughtfully-sourced meat and fish on their menu.
“I’m consistently surprised by the individuals who come seeking out meat and end up embracing our vegetables,” Frillman says, “People are willingly to try something unfamiliar, and are blown away by how good it is.”
While fresh produce might last just days, Daisies runs a finely-tuned fermentation program to extend the bounty of many different crops, while also drastically reducing the amount of food waste they produce. Frillman picked up an affinity for fermentation during his time at Perennial Virant, under Chef Paul Virant.
“The whole venue revolved around preservation in this climate, and really introduced me to jamming and jarring and pickling and preserving. Fermentation plays a huge part in developing the flavors of vegetables, and that really intrigued me.” says Frillman. He continued honing his skills at The Bristol, where he slowly took over the wine room with fermentation projects, much to the wine director’s dismay.
“Fermentation is so ingrained in our culture, and people don’t even know about it. It’s yogurt, it’s wine, it’s beer,” he says, “Noma really put it on the map, and with their fermentation book you see it slowly starting to creep into the mainstream as well.”
Daisies is a lovely place for newcomers to test the waters of preserved food – even in the summer, the Blue Hopi Fritter with pickled peppers, and the Persimmon Bloom cocktail with rhubarb shrub offer amazing flavors of produce past. Local ingredients pair incredibly well with Frillman’s abundant pasta knowledge, continuously fine-tuned with studies in Italy.
“People don’t really know what to expect sometimes,” says Frillman, “We use that to our advantage, but seeing traditional pasta names and shapes on the menu is a good grounding.”.
Frillman can count on one hand the number of times a customer’s been dissatisfied by the amount of meat Daisies serves. He has access to excellent meat, and a wide variety of fish each season, but incorporates them as compliments to pasta and plant counterparts, with plenty of butter, of course. Daisies ethos is one of consideration and economy. Repurposing and upcycling items that are often tossed aside in other kitchens. Frillman’s seen the ecological degradation and vast amounts of food waste that follow unsustainable production and sourcing. The realizations grew as Frillman and his wife had children. “A lot more is being brought to light,” he says, “And I don’t want to participate in that kind of profit.”
Frillman’s preservation skills and creative resourcefulness come in handy during the sourcing challenges brought on by coronavirus shutdowns. So far this summer, Daisies operates around 40% of guest capacity on a good week, but also offer curbside pick-up and delivery for handmade pasta and accoutrements. They also run a Sunday Shop, where shoppers can safely connect with purveyors of local food and produce. Customers continue to order menu favorites, while drinking and tipping a little more.
When the world gets strange or frightening, some people abandon vegetables, instead tucking into dense, processed fare billed as comfort food. Daisies is a shining example of the next generation of comfort food, a modern, revitalized take on the respite of a good meal. “We’ll push people, open their minds to different things, test boundaries,” says Frillman, “We can sit here and make the most creative stuff in the world, but at the end of the day, if it’s not delicious, if it doesn’t offer comfort or nostalgia, if it doesn’t fill a void, we’re not doing our job.”
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