First responder for demanding palates

Dish from Heather's
Dish from Heather's

The restaurant business has always been a dicey one, but, chances are, Heather Asbury didn’t anticipate launching her operation during a vicious pandemic, and at a site a mile or so from the epicenter of a killing that resounded around the globe.

Yet here she is, serving through a take-out window of an unassuming brick building set amidst blocks of cozy bungalows. And business is booming. On my visits, customers lurked on the sidewalk like inept Secret Service agents rehearsing a drug raid. Well, the “drug” is some of the very best food I’ve tasted in a long, long time.

Heather may be familiar to Southwest Journal readers as the longtime GM of Lucia’s in Uptown. Her front-of-the-house experience notwithstanding, she originally trained to ride the kitchen range at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America, and then helmed several Nordstrom cafes.

Dish from Heather's

No surprise that her cooking style resembles that of her longtime home at Lucia’s. It’s bright, it’s clean, it’s fresh and it has no need for glitzy showbiz tricks to gain our attention. Exacting technique, primo ingredients and insightful recipe development team up to deliver diner satisfaction, starting with the starter du jour (much of the menu changes daily), a pair of fishcakes ($12).

First off, they’re composed of fish — mild, modestly sweet, coral-pink flesh, spared of many a contender’s bready filler and overcoat of flour. They’re lightly sauteed, set upon a nest of micro-greens and sided with a lemon wedge and a smooth, full-bodied aioli visited judiciously by lemon and capers.

For my entree, more seafood — the evening’s special — scallops ($23): a plump trio, maybe four bites to each, possessing that perfect balance-point of texture — neither frail nor overly compact, ideally fresh but not shy of their natural seaborne flavor. They command a bed of “summer succotash” — sweet corn, petite butter beans, bits of tomato and sweet pepper, and (hello, Minnesota) zucchini, all bright- ened with arugula. Or choose from a long list of sandwiches and burgers ($12-$17) and nightly specials, which run from salmon to pork loin, chicken breast and quesadillas ($13-$21).

Dish from Heather's

I followed up with a peach salad ($13) generous enough to serve as a light meal or to share. Were the peaches fresh, I inno- cently inquired? A resounding “yes!” And perfectly ripened. The sweet slivers rested on a bed of greens dotted with clouds of whipped, (too) bland ricotta, balanced by husky snippets of sauteed prosciutto, rich Marcona almonds and bits (could use more) of mint. A full-bodied white balsamic dressing is packaged separately to DIY.

Dessert? Well, you know me well enough by now: Just say yes. Heather’s butterscotch pudding ($5) again proved large enough for sharing, if you’re saintly enough to want to. It’s just like grandma’s: smooth, true-flavored and frosted with “proper” whipped cream (not over-whipped nor ultra-sweetened). Other indulgences range from cookies and soft-serve ice cream to brownies, eclairs, and cakes ($3.50-$5.50), including a signature chocolate-caramel- sea salt number. Its three cake layers are deified by a supple chocolate buttercream and, on top, a drizzle of caramel sauce embedded with nuggets of sea salt to explode on your palate.

Dish from Heather's

Heather clearly knows how to bake, but does that translate to the pinnacle of the art form? We’re talking biscuits. And, unless she’s spirited a granny from Kentucky into her kitchen, she’s mastered the skill. They’re soul-satisfyingly light and mealy, and, in a breakfast order, slathered with gravy and topped with scrambled eggs. The eggs are straight-ahead and fine. And the gravy is light-years from the flour-and- water library paste of too many short-order diners. Hers isn’t gummy nor greasy and is livened with a shake of pepper. By the way, I wrote in my notes, before putting a fork in the plate, that this combo could easily feed two. Then I gobbled the whole darn thing.

What’s different, and easier, at Heather’s about dealing with the constraints of the virus is, yes: You can phone in your order and it will be waiting for you at your speci- fied time. But you don’t have to submit your credit info until you arrive. Nor do you have to order ahead; just show up and tell the server what you’d like to eat. Or have it delivered via Bite Squad. There’s also a deli case loaded with salads (potato, tuna, egg) and more. Wine to go and fancy coffees, too.

Heather’s

5201 Chicago Ave.

612-445-8822