Take Me To Church—Ivy of Wheaton

April 2015 View more

TableForTwo_Ivy interior_800px

Is dining a religious experience?

TableForTwo_Ivy -191_800pxOne could be forgiven for believing as much in this day and age, considering the degree to which superstar chefs are venerated, meals are photographed as lovingly as saints were once painted and online gastronomic commentary has reached a hyperventilating fervor that wouldn’t seem out of place in a revival tent. But food is still food, for the most part, and just because there’s a tea candle on the table doesn’t mean every meal should be treated like a devotional.

A Graceful Space 

Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling of being in a sanctuary of sorts upon entering Ivy in downtown Wheaton, perhaps due to the fact that the building was, in fact, originally erected as a chapel back in 1928. These days, despite the cathedral ceiling, the reconfigured choir loft and, yes, the stained glass windows, Ivy is more about culinary conversions than spiritual ones.

TableForTwo_Ivy -012_800pxWhile there is plenty to admire about the menu, it is this impressive physical space that certainly grabs one’s attention first. Though long dormant in the blustery midwinter, with a little faith and hope one could imagine the lush, inviting backdrop the titular climbing vines on the outside brick wall would provide for the large patio in the warm months to come. Inside, a small bar and hostess area up front opened into the airy, handsome dining room, where the sparse Sunday evening crowd seemed to be mostly clustered at tables surrounding the crackling fireplace at the far end of the room, which is where we were fortunate enough to secure a spot as well.

Elevated Standards

TableForTwo_Ivy -135_800pxWe managed to take our eyes off of the surroundings long enough to peruse the wide-ranging menu, which spotlighted mostly a variety of steaks and chops, along with a handful of sandwiches, salads and pasta specialties. Over a shared mini-loaf of crusty, piping hot French bread with honey butter, we decided to get things started by sharing a mountainous chopped chicken salad and a quartet of petite crab cakes drizzled with remoulade and plated aside a tangle of smartly dressed arugula.

TableForTwo_Ivy -078_800pxMoving on to the main course, we pored over a slate of mouthwatering options, ultimately choosing to bypass the tempting lineup of steaks in favor of a couple of soul-warming classics. The farfalle pasta dish was a master class in subtlety, with neither the crumbled Italian sausage, nor the parmesan cream sauce dominating the overall flavor, instead working in tandem to delicious effect. The andouille sausage meatloaf, meanwhile, was presented almost like a savory sundae, with two hefty slabs perched upon a slice of toasted brioche and covered by a heap of garlic mashed potatoes, topped with a smattering of crispy onion straws and a ladle of barbecue au jus. While skeptics might roll their eyes at the notion of this no-nonsense poster child of frugality pushing the $20 price point under the auspice of a “gourmet treatment,” the winning rebuttal was right there on the plate—this is comfort food, truly glorified.

TableForTwo_Ivy -222_800pxWrapping things up along the same unofficially adopted theme of well-executed simplicity that informed the rest of the meal, we split a pair of straightforward and just-right desserts to cap the evening—an intensely rich crème de cocoa and a crème brulee whose burnt sugar surface argued persuasively for the brulee torch as a must-have kitchen accessory. Like the rest of the dinner, these sweet exclamation points succeeded not through ostentatious displays of look-at-me cleverness, but rather by doing the right things, humbly and without pretense.

Amen to that.

Ivy of wheaton
120 N. Hale Street Wheaton

Photos by Greg Shapps