The joy of cooking revisited – Susan Goss fills her restaurants with a congenial spirit that outshines any trendy cuisine

Michael Nagrant / 05.08.07

Susan Goss’ restaurants have been featured on TV and in magazines like Gourmet, but she’s not one of those crazy fusionist, Food Network-reared chefs obsessed with celebrity.  She’s a purist who cooks for the love of it.  She knows sometimes the life that surrounds food is just as important as the food itself.  It brings friends and family together, builds community and forms the basis of strong traditions.

Her first Chicago spot, Zinfandel, focused on traditions by spotlighting the regional cuisines of America.  Her current restaurant, West Town Tavern, is the kind of place where a boisterous spirit always rings.  Settling under the old tin ceiling into the wood-backed chairs for a night of duck confit or Goss’ famous beer cheese feels like kicking back on your own sofa.  The golden glow from the wood-framed windows and hardwood floors beckon neighborhood folks and Chicagoans at large to return time and again.

Q. What do you wish you could change or pickle about the Chicago restaurant scene?

A. The variety of neighborhood restaurants.  There aren’t a lot of cities where you can get amazing food, so much ethnic variety and all at a decent price from owners who have an incredible commitment to their customers.  My partner [husband Drew Goss] and I love to explore different neighborhoods like Chinatown.  I love Evergreen restaurant; they have great seafood.  We also like the South Side barbecue joints, like Lem’s.

Q. What would your last meal be?

A. A bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee with a perfectly roasted chicken and potatoes cooked in duck fat, all served in bed.

Q. What Chicago chef would you like to share a kitchen with?

A. I share my kitchen every year for a fund-raiser to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It’s called the Girl Food Dinner, and this year on June 10, I’ll be cooking with Jackie Shen from Red Light, Stephanie Izard from Scylla, Christine McCabe from Park Grill and Missy Robbins of Spiaggia. If you’re nice, not uptight, down to earth and love to eat, I’ll share a kitchen with you.

Q. What’s the can’t-miss dish at your restaurant?

A. It used to be the duck confit, but now we do a fried chicken special.  I always wanted to cook it, but I’m a fried chicken snob and a purist, so it took a while.  Now on Monday nights you can get a leg, breast and thigh with sauteed Swiss chard, my great-grandmother’s buttermilk biscuits, garlicky mashed potatoes and wild mushroom gravy (which includes seasonal mushrooms — currently hen of the woods, hedgehogs and shiitakes).

Q. What should we know about your restaurant that we probably don’t?

A. It’s modeled on what Drew and I envisioned as the kind of place we wanted to eat.  It represents the best of our favorite restaurants — a casual place with good prices, great food and wine and stellar service.

West Town Tavern; 1329 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago (312) 666-6175