Girl & the Goat
Picture it: Chicago, 2010. Randolph has yet to become “Restaurant Row.” Putting bacon in a dessert feels scandalous. And your server instructing you to “order two-to-three small plates per person'' is a novelty.
This is the space and time in which Girl & The Goat (located on, yes, Randolph) landed in the West Loop. Dessert bacon and family-style meals were happening here. The chef had just won Top Chef at the precipice of the “foodie” era, and the restaurant was suddenly someplace that both your Aunt in Florida and your torrid summer fling from Italy had heard of. It quickly became one of the hardest reservations to get in town, serving fusion dishes that the city hadn’t seen before.
The intriguing small plates menu read like a game of Mad Libs or maybe a ransom note—Corny Goat Bread, Roasted Pig Face, Yay For Apple. No one knew what they were ordering or what order it would arrive in, and no one cared. Dishes were complex, relentlessly rich, and often delicious. If a plate didn’t wow you, at the very least it was interesting, and there’d be another one following close behind.
But it’s been 12 years since Chicago’s most popular restaurant started serving goat empanadas topped with blueberries. And like our dating prospects over the past decade, the landscape has changed. Not only are small plates and inscrutable menus ubiquitous, but so are Goat restaurants. Now there’s a diner, a bakery, a Chinese spot, and a Peruvian rooftop restaurant perched on top of the Hoxton Hotel. They’ve become as prolific as films in the Fast & the Furious franchise, even releasing a Girl & the Goat sequel in LA.
So, is the original still a must-visit?
The post-pandemic menu is shorter compared to earlier days—like what we imagine a Girl & The Goat in O’Hare might serve. But there are still some well-executed dishes. The goat liver mousse comes with delicious butter-soaked crumpets, and a zingy craisin relish that cuts through the fat. A stern glance is enough to make the fatty pork shank fall off the bone, and it’s glazed with a sauce that has us licking our fingers. Tender duck tartare glistens with sesame oil, topped with acidic gooseberries, and tastes delightful when scooped up by flaky housemade crackers.
And Girl & the Goat remains wildly popular, though now you have a better chance of getting same-day reservations. But it’s still likely to be slammed, even during the week—with tourists, awkward dates, and out-of-towners escaping their work conferences at the Hyatt downtown. Service is as attentive as ever, taking and replacing your two-to-three small plates (per person) with efficiency without ever rushing you.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
But many of the convoluted small plates, the ones which have always been a cornerstone of this restaurant’s whimsical charm (sweet corn potato pierogies with bok choy cream and smoked tomato rhubarb chimichurri? Why not!), are no longer well-executed.
A meal here is now more confusing than charming. You’ll still find the goat empanadas. But the empanada shells are soaked in too much oil, and filled with a teensy amount of goat meat. The only thing you taste is corn from the shell and the smoked blueberries, which add a rubbery aftertaste reminiscent of a pencil eraser. The overly salted salmon poke is dragged down by a heavy miso-brown butter aioli, and unnecessarily topped with smoked beets. Why does an aioli need an injection of brown butter? Because it’s Girl & the F*cking Goat, and dishes are built to make you scan the room for a defibrillator.
The roasted oysters are swimming in sausage butter that adds no discernable porkiness to the mollusk. The wood-fired broccoli is on a mound of blue cheese dressing, and sprinkled with rice crispies that have no chance of retaining their snap, crackle, or pop against the onslaught of dairy.
Unless you want the specter of Tom and Padma from 2010 looming over your table while you ask yourself “Is this it?” during your meal, Girl & The Goat is no longer a must-visit. There’s nothing happening in the kitchen that makes it a place to prioritize over other restaurants. We prefer Giant for exciting small plates, or Rose Mary for fans of Top Chef. But, if you’re determined to cross a famous spot off your list, or want to split a pork shank with colleagues while avoiding Morningstar Investments’ keynote speaker, then by all means, make a reservation.
Goat Liver Mousse
A perfect example of The Goat equation (fat on fat plus pickled fruit) at its finest. The mousse is light and creamy, and wonderful when spread on buttery crumpets that we love to smoosh between our fingers. All that richness pairs perfectly with the accompanying pickled craisin relish.
We like this dish even though it’s a little unhinged. The diced duck is tender, topped with pickled gooseberries that add some brightness, and comes with crackers that remind us of the ones from Town House we inhale by the sleeve. But it’s topped with some fried brussels sprout leaves that conjure an addition from the Chopped basket when the clock is running out. They don’t hurt the dish, but why are they there?
These are tasty, despite being drenched in a “sausage butter” that adds no notable flavor to the roasted oyster. But they are topped with crispy lentils that add some nice crunch.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
The broccoli has the texture of steam-in-the-bag veggies that have been thrown on the grill at the last minute. They’re served on top of too much creamy blue cheese, and sprinkled with rice crispies that become soggy immediately.
These have been on the menu for as long as we can remember, and it’s time to hang up the jersey. The oily empanada shells are barely filled with goat, and the only flavor you taste is corn and an unpleasant rubbery pencil eraser aftertaste from the smoked blueberries.
photo credit: Sandy Noto
Roasted Pig Face
Another classic Girl & The Goat dish, but this one still holds up. The salty/sweet combination of pork cheek, crunchy potato straws, fried egg, and drizzle of maple wine reduction is delicious.
The glazed pork shank slips easily off the bone, and is served with mushroom kimchi, squash and fennel slaw, hoisin aioli, flatbread, and lettuce cups. If we don’t think too hard about why there are so many disparate things on the plate, we can just enjoy making and eating these tasty little wraps.
The epitome of when a Girl & The Goat dish goes bad. The salmon is topped with smoked beets that do not complement the flavor of the fish, a heavy miso aioli, and pieces of orange that clash with everything else. Plus, the whole thing is way too salty.