George Bumbaris & Sarah Stegner

Michael Nagrant / 10.02.07

George Bumbaris and Sarah Stegner, co-owners of Prairie Grass Cafe, are the culinary version of Bogart and Bacall.  They’re not romantically involved, as the magnificent screen team was, but as a legendary local kitchen duo, their stars shine just as bright.

Veterans of Chicago’s Ritz-Carlton, they shelved the four-star glitz in favor of more personalized four-star comfort, with a serious commitment to locally focused cooking at Prairie Grass.

Using organic vegetables from Chicago’s Green City Market (Stegner was one of the founding chefs) and Bill Kurtis’ hormone-free Tallgrass Beef, they are conscious chefs.  And on Sept. 16, they hosted a discussion and cooked an all-local lunch to celebrate the end of the Chicago Localvore Challenge, where participants spent a week attempting to eat only locally grown and produced foods.

Q: What do you wish you could change or pickle and preserve about the Chicago restaurant/ food/drink scene?

Stegner:  I really like what is going on in the drink “scene,” with using local ingredients to make the most amazing cocktails.  I had a local cherry sangria at Nacional 27 that was great.  At Prairie Grass Cafe, we serve a local strawberry-infused North Shore Vodka drink.

Bumbaris:  Chefs have greater access to seasonal ingredients; our food tastes that much better, and the community and environment win, too.

Q: What would your last pastry be?

Stegner:  A slice of my mom’s pie.

Bumbaris:  A chocolate eclair made by our old pastry chef at the Ritz, En-Ming Su.

Q: Where do you eat or drink before or after a shift?

Stegner:  I spend most of my time with my daughter before work.  We go to Lulu’s in Evanston on weekdays, and on Saturdays, we go to the Evanston Farmers Market for fresh fruit from Morlock Farms.

Bumbaris:  My wife makes the best coffee in town, so we kick back and drink her coffee before I head out for the day.

Q: What’s the can’t-miss dish at Prairie Grass?

Stegner:  I’d say our shepherd’s pie or braised short ribs, with homemade barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes.

Bumbaris:  Weekend brunch.  The PGC benedict — our take on the traditional eggs benedict: two poached eggs, sauteed spinach, Nueske’s bacon, English muffin and roasted-tomato hollandaise.  Or our potato skins, covered in scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, Nueske’s bacon, scallions and sour cream.

Q: What should we know about Prairie Grass that we probably don’t?

Stegner:  We make our sausage by hand.

Bumbaris:  Our moussaka is a version of my wife’s family recipe.

Prairie Grass Cafe; 601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook (847) 205-4433