The Lula Cafe Cookbook Celebrates The History Of A Chicago Institution

If you've spent any substantive time in Chicago's culinary scene, then you know the vaunted place Lula Cafe holds. That's not to say that it isn't appealing to folks of all stripes because it certainly is as evidenced by its 24 years and counting. But for industry vets from both the back and front of house, Lula Cafe has always been a place of refuge and respite that exudes a casual cool along with plates of thoughtful, creative, deceptively-simple food that feeds the soul as much as the body.

Until now, though, save for the occasional recipe on its website or contributed to a publication, Lula Cafe's dishes remained in the mind of executive chef Jason Hammel or one of his many protégés who have gone on to open some of Chicago's most-respected restaurants. That all changes with the release of "The Lula Cafe Cookbook” written by Hammel. According to a press release sent to Tasting Table, the book weaves "together personal stories and recipes collected over more than two decades" and "chronicles Lula Cafe's journey from a scrappy artist-run cafe to one of the city's most legendary establishments."

A seasoned history within a cookbook

Founded in 1999 by Hammel and his wife Amalea Tshilds in the heart of Chicago's Logan Square, Lula Cafe was a labor of love from the start when the couple took over what had been a space feeding the neighborhood's community of musicians, writers, and artists. In that small area, the couple used a four-burner stove not intended for commercial use and various thrifted pots and pans to make meals that reflected the bounty of regional and seasonal ingredients procured from local farms and purveyors.

Regulars of Lula Cafe and newcomers alike will delight in the cookbook's 90 recipes and 40 "building block" pantry recipes, which are dated to reflect the seasonal approach of the restaurant as well as its growth and trajectory through the years. Old favorites include The "Tineka" Sandwich, an unusually-satisfying combination of Indonesian-spiced peanut butter and vegetables, and Pasta Yiayia, where warm cinnamon plays off feta, brown butter, and garlic. And recipes like Potatoes with Smoked Trout and Peach Tahini and Plums and Ricotta with Mint Za'atar showcase the playful but considerate approach that has made Lula Cafe so ground-breaking in the Chicago culinary field.

The cookbook will be available at bookstores throughout the U.S. and via Amazon on October 11, 2023. Until then, you can keep up to date with the release and cafe through its website and Instagram