4/16/2013 10:00:00 AM

15 Chicago Restaurants Rolling Out the Ramps

Ramp board at Gather featuring grilled and picked ramps, ramp ranch and chutney
First things first: What is a ramp? A ramp, or Allium tricoccum, is a variety of wild onion native to North America. It resembles a scallion with broader and flatter leaves and tastes a bit like a garlic-onion hybrid. Served grilled, sautéed or raw, they are a versatile root with a notoriously short season. Along with morels and fiddleheads, they are the shining stars of spring - they're one of the earliest vegetables to sprout in spring, so chefs go crazy getting their hands on the pungent ingredients.

Secondly: What's the big deal? Well, only that Chicago was named after them! Back in the 17th century, explorer René-Robert Cavelier found himself on the shore of Lake Michigan. Growing all along the shoreline were wild onions referred to by the local native tribes as "shikaakwa." The plant was so abundant that Cavelier chose a phonetic variation of the name for the settlement.

Finally: Where can you eat them? Turns out, at a lot of restaurants - but not for long. Ramp season lasts from mid-April till early June. Chefs started receiving ramp supplies last week and immediately turned to Twitter to announce the bounty. Others traveled to nearby farms and gardens to forage for the root. "Here in the Midwest, where the winters are cold, long and grey, ramps are the first edible sign of spring," says chef Steve McDonagh of Hearty, adding, "We're longing to pull something green out of the dirt and eat it, no matter how stinky it makes our car as we travel back from Michigan."

Check out 15 Chicago restaurants with ramps on the menu.

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