Vegans and vegetarians in Chicago have seen more upscale meat-free options over the last few years, but some suburbs have been neglected. That should change in the North Shore with Spirit Elephant, the area’s first 100-percent vegan restaurant. Owner CD Young hopes to open the Winnetka restaurant in early January.
Classically trained French executive chef Renan Lopes plans for his vegan menu to draw on the approaches and techniques he developed while working in Paris. He’ll also lean into his childhood travels, when he spent the most time in Brazil, which he said has a strong plant-based culinary tradition despite its reputation for steakhouses and meatpacking.
Spirit Elephant’s menu is still in development, but Lopes is excited to highlight animal-free versions of French favorites such as vegan bourguignon and “cheese” fondue. Neither Lopes nor sous chef Huntley See would disclose how they achieve a cheesy flavor and melty consistency without dairy: “it’s a house secret,” Lopes said.
Dessert often presents a challenge for vegan cooks, a food where eggs and butter tend to reign supreme. The obstacle excites Lopes, who said he’s developing sweets such as a vegan creme brulee. He’s not sure if it will be ready in time for the opening, but diners can keep an eye out for the final product.
Young is a lifelong animal lover and said the restaurant is the result of her journey with veganism that began seven years ago. Media such as James Cameron’s documentary the Gamechangers influenced her. The movie approaches protein and meat-free diets from an athlete’s point of view. Young said she hears from many suburban residents who long for an entirely plant-based dining option nearby.
“This ain’t no sacrifice,” Young said. “This is really good food and you are going to come just because it’s so good...I feel like we are going to open a lot of eyes.”
She’s also eager to introduce patrons to the restaurant’s bar selections — the “spirit” component of Spirit Elephant — including fruit and herb-focused cocktails with punny names, such as the “Getting Figgy With It.” Drinkers can also expect eight draft beers along with bottled brews and a large list of vegan wines that are free of the animal byproducts that appear in many sparkling whites, roses, and dry reds.
The 4,300 square-foot restaurant will seat 130 and includes a 27-foot bar. The back wall of the restaurant will bear a large mural of the Serengeti at dusk. Deep blue and indigo tones run throughout the space, which also features scaffolding filled with lights and lush plants. Young includes some eclectic and personal design touches as well — a private dining room contains a framed photograph of a soybean field, a Christmas gift from her husband that symbolizes their shared commitment to pushing back against factory farm practices. The restaurant does not include a patio, but Young hopes to put a few two-tops out front when warm weather returns.
Stay tuned for more news as Spirit Elephant progresses. Young plans to hold a grand opening celebration in late January.
Spirit Elephant, 924 Green Bay Road in Winnetka, Scheduled to open in January.