Karyn’s Fresh Corner & Raw Bistro

I was just in Chicago for a long weekend, and while I was there I was able to catch up with a couple of dear old friends, do a bit of sightseeing, and of course, grab some mouthwatering vegan fare.  On my first day there I met up with my friend, James, who I met way back in high school.  James is vegan now too, and when we got together he ran through our dining options.  We’d both visited Karyn’s Cooked and Karyn’s On Green on other occasions, but neither of us had tried her raw restaurant, Karyn’s Fresh Corner & Raw Bistro.  I just love the creativity of raw food.  James said he generally preferred cooked food to raw, but since he’d never gone to an actual raw restaurant, he was interested in trying it.

In the past when I’ve talked about raw food, some people have been perplexed by what that means.   Outside of a raw salad, carrot sticks, or a handful of nuts, what is there?  Basically, raw food for the purposes of raw cuisine, is food that hasn’t been heated above 118 degrees.  Making entrees often involves soaking nuts, so that they can be used for creamy sauces or cheeses.  Dehydrators are used for a long and low cooking period that can turn seeds into pizza crusts and crackers.  Instead of wheat based noodles, you’ll often find kelp noodles or spiralized zucchini noodles or in the case of ravioli, thinly sliced turnips or beets.  That’s what I find so exciting about raw food.  It takes something ordinary, plays with it, and turns it on its ear to become extraordinary, while keeping its freshness and full-of-life flavor.

When we arrived at Karyn’s Fresh Corner & Raw Cafe, which has recently re-opened in the Lincoln Park area after a fire, we discovered that in addition to having a small gourmet restaurant, they also have a little specialty grocery store with food bar.  We slipped into the dining area, which was cozy and cleanly decorated.

We were the only ones there at the time, and a server came to our table right away with menus and water for the table.  The water had been infused with cucumber slices, which was refreshing and always makes me feel like I’m sitting at a spa.  The featured drink option of the day was coconut water, fresh from a young coconut and served in a wine glass.

For an appetizer, James ordered the cheese plate, which includes a variety of nut-based cheeses in different flavors alongside dehydrated crackers, dried fruit and nuts.  We took turns sampling the different cheeses and then pressing them into the various toppings.  We each attempted to pick our favorite, but that kept changing with each bite – sometimes it was the one with a prominent flavor of basil, then it would be the garlicky one, then the more spicy one…  They gave a generous amount of each of the cheeses, and I had to remind myself that I still had a main course coming.

For the main course, I ordered the Pad Thai.  Like I mentioned earlier, I generally see kelp noodles or spiralized zucchini in raw noodle dishes, but for this entrée coconut meat was used.  They cut the inner meat from a young coconut into long strips and tossed it in a creamy curry sauce with bean sprouts, peas, scallions, carrots, and marinated mushrooms.  The sauce definitely had a spicy kick, and I liked the crunch of the bean sprouts against the softness of the coconut meat noodles.

James ordered the empanadas, which were made with flax and corn masa pastry dough and then stuffed with chorizo and served with raw chocolate mole and salsa verde.   I stopped myself from reaching across with a fork to sample one of his empanadas, which he was clearly enjoying.  Instead I asked if he’d have raw food again sometime, to which he said, “Well, if raw food is like this then I would.”

Too stuffed to order dessert, afterwards we looked around the small grocery area, where they have cookbooks and supplements for sale in addition to a few refrigerated cases selling Karyn’s cheeses, entrées to go, and other raw items.  While I was there, I noticed in one of the refrigerated cases that they had several kinds of sauerkraut for sale.

There’s a sauerkraut from Gold Mine that I fell in love with when I was living in California that’s preserved with garlic.  If there’s one thing that I love more than sauerkraut, it’s sauerkraut that has a punch of garlic along with it. The cabbage is shredded small.  It’s all organic, and because it’s raw, it still maintains its crunch.  I’ve sampled many kinds of sauerkraut over the years, but this one easily tops the list.

It’s available online, but with shipping costs being what they are I’ve resigned myself to looking for it on my travels instead.  (Oh, and I’ve put it on my Christmas list a number of times, but with no luck so far.  Maybe Santa can’t find it either.)  I have looked in at least 5 states in the Midwest for that sauerkraut, visiting a variety of natural grocery stores and eyeing their refrigerated sections.  It’s become my vegan White Whale.  So when I saw jars of it (along with the non-garlic version) in one of the refrigerated cases, I may have audibly gasped.  First I pulled out just one small jar, and then I decided after looking for it for this long, I was grabbing two.  It’s on the pricey side, but it was still cheaper than flying to California for it!

If I lived in Chicago, all of Karyn’s restaurants would definitely be in my regular rotation, including her raw café where I’d love to make it my mission to sample the menu from top to bottom (leaving out the menu items with honey, of course).  It was a delectable meal, and no, that’s not just the sauerkraut talking!

The countdown is on to Thanksgiving!  If you’re still in the menu planning stages, check out these Vegan Thanksgiving Ideas!


    • Cadry says

      Yes, it was such an unusual twist! The texture of the coconut meat was softer than one would find with kelp noodles, but it really let the creamy sauce draw focus. You’re so lucky to have a raw restaurant near you! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it!

  1. says

    Karyn’s looks great. I’m on a huge raw kick right now, in fact I’m eating a raw soaked lentil chili right now! I’m in England where vegan restaurants are pretty hard to come by let alone raw restaurants. I did have my 21st birthday at what’s probably one of maybe 2 raw restaurants in the country though :) I’m yet to try young coconut, need to go and scout out the Asian markets I think…

    • Cadry says

      Wow, raw soaked lentil chili! Good for you! I still haven’t tried soaking and sprouting lentils, but I’ve been curious about it. I know what you mean about going through raw kicks. I often experience that after foodie indulgences while traveling or after the holidays! Asian markets are a great place to find young coconuts, and the prices are generally better there too.

  2. says

    I ate at Karyn’s on Green several years ago (before I even got into raw food), and loved it. I need to get back to Chi-Town and go to all of Karyn’s restaurants. Your meals look fantastic!

    • Cadry says

      Definitely! There’s so much deliciousness to explore in Chicago! One of the things I miss about living in a big city is access to raw restaurants. It’s food that feels energizing!

  3. says

    I did used to be a bit of a raw skeptic, and was a bit leery of raw restaurants, but after a few amazing meals, I’ve completely changed my mind. Mind you, I did used to be a bit of a skeptic about veganism, and I was very very wrong about that too!

    I love the look of those cheeses! Such a shame you were too full for dessert, I was looking forward to seeing an awesome pie or something!

    • Cadry says

      The next time I’m in Chicago, I’ll try to hit them up for a dessert. I’m just thinking of you, of course. I don’t want to disappoint! 😉

  4. cookeasyvegan says

    Your meals look spectacular! I can see that our next Midwest trip has to include a jaunt to Chicago and Karyn’s. Congrats on the Gold Mine find!

    • Cadry says

      Absolutely, Andrea! Chicago has so many wonderful vegan & vegan-friendly restaurants. They’re popular too! I’ve eaten at Chicago Diner several times in the past, and I tried to visit again on this trip. No luck! Both times I went, there was a 40 minute to an hour long wait! I’m glad when vegetarian businesses thrive, but I was hoping for one of their reubens! Luckily with Native Foods in the area, I didn’t have to go without for too long! :)

  5. says

    We love spending the weekends in Chicago for friends and food, but we have yet to go the Karyn’s Raw. We love the cooked place so much we never go to her other restaurant, but now after this post we will be sure to check it out.

    • Cadry says

      Of her three restaurants, Karyn’s on Green would still be my favorite, I think, but it’s also the most high end dining experience. While there are many wonderful vegan restaurants in the world, there aren’t nearly as many that offer vegan fine dining. Both times I’ve gone to Karyn’s Cooked I’ve enjoyed it, and I could see it being especially kid-friendly. Although, since your kids have such wide palates, that’s probably not as much of a concern for you as it is for a lot of parents! Karyn’s Raw Bistro is definitely worth checking out on your next visit. I love restaurant food that feels so vibrant and healthy!

    • Cadry says

      The cheese plate was so good! I’d definitely get that one again! You won’t be disappointed when you complete the trifecta. Now that I’ve done it, I want to start all over again at Karyn’s On Green! :)

  6. says

    That cheese plate and that pad thai! Wow! I will need to keep these places in mind for the next time we’re in Chicago!

    I’ve been looking and looking (okay, I’ve searched 2 Whole Foods- Glendale and Venice) for this Gold Mine sauerkraut, but I can’t find it. I’ve been checking both the raw food section and the sauerkraut section with no luck. Where did you get it?

    • Cadry says

      Yes, definitely put it on your list of places to try in Chicago!

      I’m surprised you weren’t able to find the Gold Mine sauerkraut in Glendale. I used to buy it at that Whole Foods, and they had it with the other raw sauerkrauts in the refrigerated section that’s in the same open area as their deli cases (kind of across from the olive bar). I also used to buy it at the Pasadena Whole Foods, the one that’s two levels with an escalator inside. At that Whole Foods it’s downstairs with the all of the other sauerkrauts, across from the bulk nuts. Good luck!

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