Every morning, the executive chef of Chicago’s Uncommon Ground, climbs up onto the rooftop garden and chooses, along with the restaurant’s hired farmer, the day’s produce. Once he returns to the kitchen, he decides what the daily special will be according to the vegetables at his disposal. And the regular lunch and dinner menus change seasonally, as does the 60 square meter of pesticide-free garden, which grows everything from raspberries to zucchini, parsley to rosemary, and which generated 317 kilos of ingredients last year. The food that doesn’t arrive from the roof comes from locally-sourced suppliers.
At Uncommon Ground, the keyword is environmental awareness. Some of their measures are quite common by now: the use of solar panels, LED lighting, strict adherence to recycling practices, and the re-use of rain water. But other measures they take go above and beyond the ordinary: the restaurant uses recycled materials in its décor – some antique, some vintage design, and some that were created without harming nature. The tables themselves are the symbol of this philosophy – they’re all made from the wood taken from fallen trees in the nearby Jackson Park. Even the restaurant’s car runs on bio-diesel, fueled by oil used in the kitchen.
Beyond these efforts, the restaurants has racked up an additional 116 points for their “green” behavior, earning them, at the end of 2011, the honor of being America’s Greenest Restaurant – (the second on the list is also part of the Uncommon Ground brand, an eatery of theirs in Lakeview), and the maximum 4 star rating, from the Green Restaurants Association (GRA). This isn’t an easy award to win. The aim of the non-profit GRA is not only to oversee certification, but to encourage restaurants to adopt eco-friendly practices. There are different rating levels, with 4 stars being the highest, and 7 different categories: water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, sustainable furnishings, sustainable food, energy, disposables, chemical and pollution reduction.
The two Uncommon Ground restaurants have both earned top marks, while in the U.S., there are only 5 restaurants that have earned the maximum points. Among the other 3 notable eco-friendly restaurants is the Grey Plume in Omaha, which also boasts a “sustainable” building, in which every detail has been carefully planned to pollute and waste less. But one thing this certification also ensures, although without too much emphasis, is that along with being good for the environment, all of the eco-winning restaurants feature exceptional, original menus and cuisine.