Travels with Charlie

On His Way Out, Charlie Trotter Is More Entertaining Than Ever

“You ready to have a good time?” Photo: AFP / Getty Images

In what may be the most disturbing — and yet oddly touching and encouraging — account of a chef exiting the stage, Jeff Ruby in Chicago Magazine recounts “Trotter’s Victory Lap” with such observations as “Three things I thought I’d never see at Charlie Trotter’s: (1) staffers who aren’t sure what they’ve just served, (2) dirty dishes sitting on a table for 20 minutes, and (3) Trotter himself, a man normally as rigid as a slab of steel, joking around with customers in the dining room like Shecky Greene in the Catskills.” These and a few other descriptive details make Charlie Trotter’s maybe more interesting today than the restaurant has been in 15 years or more.

Behind a display of antics Ruby describes as “nothing short of surreal,” there’s actually a chance to maybe enjoy the food of this master chef one more time, with a difference.

Ruby recounts dishes that “represent the brand of ballsy but nuanced creations that made Trotter a legend: creative, pretty, and technically impeccable compositions, as good as anything he did in his supposed heyday in the 1990s. The difference is that people are now outwardly enjoying them in a festive room rather than expressing hushed admiration in a silent one. Of course food tastes better at a dinner party than at a wake.”

We visited Trotter’s in the 80s and the 90s and the experience both times was remarkably the same. The menu changed regularly, of course, but the mood of the food was the same, and we felt little inclination to make another trip there in the Aughts and after.

Making the very solid point that it “wasn’t the food that fell out of vogue at Trotter’s; it was the snoozy beige room,” Ruby recounts a loud and loose dining experience that he calls “the most memorable evening I’ve spent at Trotter’s in years.”

Even though the great man has bumped up the Grand Menu from $165 to $195, this might be exactly the right time to make one last pilgrimage to the restaurant that changed so indelibly and dramatically the experience of dining out in Chicago.

Trotter’s Victory Lap [Chicago Magazine]

On His Way Out, Charlie Trotter Is More Entertaining Than Ever