During the last few years, new restaurants and intriguing bars have been popping up all over the community. However, one restaurant has started to shift even more people’s attention to Humboldt Park and that is Bar Marta. Austin Baker and a few former members of Hogsalt Group opened the modern American fare restaurant in the lively neighborhood just last year. However, before we get into why young restauranteurs would open a restaurant in Humboldt, let’s talk about the unique rival Humboldt Park has been enduring within the last decade.
An Unforgettable HistoryIn the 1970’s Humboldt Park was known for its vibrant Puerto Rican community. Thousands flocked to the famous Puerto Rican day parade and every Chicagoan knew that Humboldt Park is where you could find some of the city’s best Puerto Rican cuisine.
Walking through the neighborhood of Humboldt Park is equivalent to walking through the history books of Chicago. Today there are over 60 colorful murals scattered across the neighborhood with many paying homage to Latin culture. Everyone’s favorite coffee shop Café Coloa is still serving the freshest Puerto Rican pastries and coffee. And Paseo Boricua still proudly boasts two giant steel Puerto Rican flags. While walking through Humboldt the message of the early settlers becomes clear “don’t forget about us and don’t erase us”.
With a neighborhood that is so rich in culture and history, it seems like a daunting task to add a business to an already vibrant neighborhood. New businesses have the difficult task of finding their niche or footing in such a culturally significant community. The question businesses must ask themselves is how do we continue to build Humboldt Park without tampering with the history? The answer: keep it simple and just give the community something good.
Fine Dining in HumboldtOn one evening, Kamerin Chambers and I ventured to Humboldt Park to check out the much raved about Bar Marta. While we were deciding which restaurants to cover for this piece, Kamerin kept mentioning all the reviews she had come across for this new neighborhood gem. Rockstar chefs and world class bartenders make up the Bar Marta dream team which was reason enough alone to check it out. Kamerin kept raving about how everyone was saying how the food was absolutely phenomenal. One quick look at their Instagram page I could see why Kamerin was dying to check this place out. My mouth slowly began to water just looking at the images as I was anticipating my first visit.
As we make our way to Humboldt Park, the restaurant sits on a quiet corner. Subdued is the signage and minimal making it easy to miss the white etched Bar Marta sign on a dark quiet night. The restaurant space itself was quaint and minimalist in design. In fact, it was the opposite of all the colors that you would see while casually walking around Humboldt Park. There were no murals on the walls, no hanging pictures. It was classic yet modern and sophisticated but not overly ornate
The ExperienceMany patrons congregated around the bar which made sense since Austin shared with me that his vision was to create a great neighborhood restaurant. Pockets of couples and groups of friends scattered about the space indulging themselves in the famed cuisine. Think of it as a highly sophisticated version of Cheers with a Michelin-starred level menu.
Modern American fare is what describes the cuisine. While classic American dishes are prominent in the menu, touches of European and Latin flair is seen throughout the dishes. In a sense, the recipes are paying homage to the vibrant and diverse community of Humboldt Park.
The small and large plates are ideal for sharing creating a family and communal atmosphere. One such tradition that caught me and Kamerin’s eye was the sharing of a glass of champagne with another table. If a table buys a bottle of champagne, it is a Bar Marta tradition to share a glass with a neighboring table. With two cocktails already seated in front of us, we did not decline the gifted bubbly. With just the pop of a bottle of champagne, we are welcomed into the Bar Marta family.
The MenuFor dinner, Kamerin and I shared dishes such as a divine Burrata which featured snap peas, radish, almonds, and couscous. While every restaurant takes a stab at their own take of Burrata, no one does Burrata like Bar Marta. This dish was so delicious, I found myself disappointed when I devoured it in less than 5 minutes. This is a moment to be savored.
An elegantly seasoned Ora King Salmon Crudo featured dashes of ginger, lemon, and Fresnos. You can never go wrong with Crudo so this is another must try. The Lamb Tartare topped off with an over-easy egg was breathtakingly delicious and was perfectly paired with lightly toasted bread. But what left my mouth salivating the entire night was the Chicken Liver Toast which comprised chilis and crispy skin. The liver spread was smooth and the taste featured just the right amount of seasoning and flavor. After indulging in the plates, I regretted not leaving enough room for dessert.
Paired with our intriguing dishes were equally enchanting cocktails such as the Strange Brew which consisted of gin, pineapple, and IPA. Kamerin’s Lion’s Tail cocktail was another standout which was composed of bourbon, alspice dram, and Angostura.
The evening concludes and our stomachs are bursting at the seams and our time is coming to an end at Humboldt Park’s Bar Marta.
Leaving Its MarkIt was an experience and a night to remember as Bar Marta welcomed us into the family. Interestingly enough, Austin shared with me how Bar Marta means Old Friend. Situated in a neighborhood that is undergoing all types of change, Bar Marta is an old yet new friend to the unforgettable Humboldt Park community.
The memories and history of Humboldt were not erased with these new additions rather new pages add to the growing story.
The goal of Bar Marta is simple. They are old friends who wish to give everyone good food and good times and they have certainly left their mark.
*Bar Marta provided all food gratis. All opinions are my own. Special thanks to Kamerin Chambers of Where’s She Going for collaborating with me.