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Chicago’s Central Standard offers a great time to dine

CSTFrom the Saturday, Sept. 29, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

I love the Central Time Zone.

Prime time starts at 7. The nightly news comes on at 10. NFL games kick off at noon.

Perfect.

To me, the timing of our zone just feels right, unlike, say, the Pacific (where college football games begin airing before breakfast) or, even worse, the awful Eastern (where World Series games can last until after midnight).

Heck, it gets late so early out east that I don’t know how everyone living there isn’t the Walking Dead. After all, even through Leno and Letterman air an hour later there than here, it’s not as if New Yorkers and Bostonians get to start work an hour later in the morning too. Sleep-deprivation in the east has to be like cabs in Manhattan. Everywhere.

So, yes, I love the Central Time Zone.

And so too does a unique seven-month-old dining spot in Chicago’s River North neighborhood that devotes its entire existence to honoring all things Central Time Zone.

Fittingly named Central Standard, the idea for the bar and restaurant is about time. And it’s about more than that too.

Everything inside the sprawling 10,000-square-foot space at 169 W. Kinzie St. is an homage to the CST (or, you know, CDT depending on the time of year). From the décor to the drink list to the menu to its ingredients, it all hails from the Central Time Zone, a region that includes all or part of 20 U.S. states, as well as swaths of Canada and Mexico.

The novel concept, which owner Roger Greenfield says came to him in middle of the night. And now you can eat all day at the place and still not explore all that Central Standard has to offer.

Without leaving Chicago, you can take a culinary journey from the North Woods to the Deep South as every ingredient and cooking technique is sourced from the region. That means you’ll find Lake Superior whitefish, walleye pike and trout on the menu, but no halibut or salmon which aren’t native to the CST’s lakes, rivers or Gulf.

As with our diverse time zone, you’ll find a wide array of culinary themes on the menu. There’s Polish (pierogies), Italian (fettuccini and gnocchi) and Canadian (poutine). There are short rib sloppy joes from Tennessee. There’s grilled cheese from Wisconsin. There are fried shrimp po’boys and chicken fried alligator from the Gulf. There are Tex-Mex steak tacos and enchiladas. And there are bison burgers from North Dakota.

The drink menu works in the same way with more than 40 beer offerings on tap from throughout the region, as well as cocktails such as the New Orleans-inspired sazerac, the Texan Paloma and the Michigan Cherry Collins.

During my visit to Central Standard this week, I opted to head due south by ordering an Abita Purple Haze, corn chowder with crawfish and a main course of spicy blackened catfish with something called southern caviar, which turned out to be a delicious succotash of black-eyed peas, green peas, corn and lima beans. As a nightcap, I ordered a gin cocktail called a Mississippi Mule that had a nice kick.

Adding to the atmosphere, the interior of Central Standard is constructed from reclaimed Wisconsin barnwood that’s been fashioned into tables and sprouts from the walls. And n those walls you’ll see paintings of cityscapes and cornfields, photographs of farm girls lounging on bales of hay and other knickknacks such as Route 66 signs. Perhaps my favorite elements are the clocks identified by signs such as “Memphis,” “Dallas” and “New Orleans,” which of course all show the same time.

Making any time a good time to visit Central Standard.