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Plenty for the palate to discover at Found

Pork with celery root onisalsentree Found Kitchen Social House EvanstIll. Wednesday April 10 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

Pork with celery root and onion salsa entree at Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, Ill., on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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1631 Chicago Ave., Evanston

(847) 868-8945;

Prices: Small plates: $5-$13; entrees: $14-$28; desserts: $5-$7.

Hours: 4:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 4:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 4:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Try: Flatbread prepared in a wood-fired oven; grilled baby octopus; carrot and beet salad; Turkish coffee gelato sundae with brown butter caramel.

Tips: Valet and street parking. No reservations. Daily specials. Full bar, including a selection of regional microbrews. Casual dress.

In a bite: Diners will find plenty of good eating at Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, a relative newcomer with an inventive menu and spiffy decor.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good; ★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: June 4, 2013 6:07AM

Found Kitchen and Social House, a big hit on Evanston’s central dining-out scene since its opening in November, offers strong testimony to the power of a creative contemporary American menu and eco-friendly farm-to-table operating philosophy.

Its seasonally changing, mostly regionally sourced organic fare is the handiwork of Executive Chef Nicole Pederson, who last hung her toque in the kitchen of Lula Cafe in Logan Square.

The restaurant, started by Amy Morton, derives its distinctive name not just from the locally found produce, meats and spirits it serves. Morton’s eclectic taste also is reflected in the decor, composed mostly of found items, from salvaged furniture to a hard-to-catalog mix of artwork and assorted bric-a-brac ­— here a bench from an old Chicago courthouse, there a vintage bicycle hung from a wall.

Though Found’s concise menu offers a dozen shareable small-plate options, start with a sumptuous flatbread made in a wood-fired oven. The smoky bacon and leek version ($10) was topped with Pheasant Ridge Reserve Gruyere, an artisanal cheese from Wisconsin, and the crust resembled something one might happen upon in Rome. Other iterations came with arugula and Parmesan and a winter vegetable and quark.

Purple-tinged baby octopus, expertly grilled and without a hint of toughness, was a pleasure for the eyes and the palate. Resting on a bed of bulgur, the octopus came with aromatic Arbequina olives and sunchokes.

Another tasty small plate starred a composition of baby carrots and beets (purple, red and golden) with baby greens and yogurt cheese ­— a sweet, earthy, wintertime dish.

Among other popular tapas-style dishes finding their way to neighboring tables were fried oyster tacos with bacon and tomatillos; lamb meatballs with pistachio chimichurri and yogurt; and polenta with almonds, mushrooms, smoky blue cheese and a slow-cooked egg.

Full-size entrees included root vegetable stew; grilled steak; pork with celery root and onion salsa; and whole roasted fish, as well as chicken pot pie, meatloaf, New York strip and rainbow trout specials.

Only a few desserts populate the menu. The two tried by my dining partner and me were both splendid. The flavors worked harmoniously in the orange pound cake with Meyer lemon curd, blood orange segments and toasted coconut gelato, as well as in the Turkish coffee gelato sundae with brown butter caramel, sweet ricotta and walnut meringue.

Chocolate pot de creme was a third option. Diners who choose can take their final course in liquid form. The bar dispenses dessert wines, ports and vermouths, many made by FEW Spirits in Evanston and North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff.

Found, housed in rejuvenated space previously occupied by a flagging Italian restaurant, doesn’t take reservations. So latecomers, especially on weekends, had best prepare themselves to play the waiting game to the tune of an hour or longer. During my visit on a recent Saturday, the place was packed by 7 p.m.

On its website, Found states its social mission is to “hire and train people coming out of homelessness as a steppingstone to living more independent lives.” It’s a commendable philosophy, though apparently during the restaurant’s early days some patrons found service fell short.

But judging from my experience, that issue is ancient history. The waitstaff was personable, diligent and knowledgeable

Thomas Witom is a local freelance writer.

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