It isn’t the sticky floors, $14 light beers, or person next to us blowing huge vape clouds that we think about after going to a good concert. It’s more about how we felt, whether we moshed until we left with a ripped shirt, or just hung out in the back like well-adjusted adults. Eating at Virtue is similar. It’s not some choreographed light show or the individual dishes that make this place stand out - we come here because we know we’re going to eat some great Southern food and have a good time doing it.
Virtue is a busy, upscale restaurant in Hyde Park with a large bright dining room that’s spacious enough to never feel too crowded. And the menu is full of the classics - not experimental stuff that a band starts playing when they’re afraid of being irrelevant, trying too hard with things like “Shrimp & Grits 2.0: A Deconstruction Of Flavor In Four Parts.” Which we’re grateful for because the shrimp and creamy grits here are perfect just the way they are. Same with the gizzards and the green tomatoes, which are simple, fried, and crunchy. Instead of having us click on the “pictures that contain stop signs,” Ticketmaster can ask if we like these to find out whether we’re robots or not.
photo credit: Jack Li
Musicians are probably the only people who spend the day after a concert thinking things like “that drummer’s foot pedal game was insane” - most people just look back on the really good show they saw. Similarly, it can be hard to point to specific things at Virtue that wow us even when all of the dishes come together for a great meal. Even though the mesquite broccoli salad with candied pecans and the blackened, well-seasoned catfish are both good, we wouldn’t buy posters of them to hang on our bedroom wall.
But every band has a song they have to play at every show, and the biscuits are a must-order at Virtue. Crunchy on the outside, warm and fluffy inside, and served with butter and pimento spread, we can’t get them out of our head - just like that one catchy song you hum until your coworkers put their AirPods in.
There will probably be some service gaps when you come here - for example, waiting for the check long after the table’s been cleared while calculating when your parking meter expired. But the same way a show at the Riv ends up being more memorable than the exact order of the setlist - splitting a bottle of wine, eating fried green tomatoes, and getting mad at your friend for taking more biscuits than you is what you’ll remember about Virtue.
These crispy little fried nuggets are creamy on the inside and served with gravy and dirty rice. Order them to start.
Another great starter, they’re battered with crunchy cornmeal and served with shrimp remoulade on top.
This charcuterie board doesn’t make a ton of sense. The homemade crackers are weirdly huge, dusted with dry, bland mesquite, and the sweet pepper jelly and sliced ham it comes with is great, but there’s hardly enough for two people to split.
The broccoli is perfectly cooked. And the candied pecans, sweet peppers, and little cubes of white cheddar make it a well-rounded shareable salad.
Biscuits & Pimento Cheese
These are on the menu under “extra rations,” which makes sense because it’s important to order more than one serving of them. They’re warm, fluffy, and the ideal biscuit.
Thin and tender, and aggressively-seasoned (in a good way), this is served with slightly sweet barbecue carrots and dirty rice. It’s a great option when you want something on the lighter end of the spectrum.
Shrimp and Grits
A big bowl of creamy, buttery grits topped with a ton of shrimp. If any Southerners are looking for their go-to shrimp and grits in Chicago, they’re here.
Beef Short Ribs
These are incredibly rich and tender, and because the ribs are so great, the mashed potatoes and creamed spinach fade into the background like a 5’1” friend at the show.
photo credit: Jack Li
Sweet Potato Pie
An excellent slice of sweet and savory pie, but if you’re the type of person who thinks encores are overrated, you might want to skip dessert and just grab the check.