A little bit of Louisiana in Chicago is what Heaven on Seven is all about. It's some of the finest Cajun and creole cooking that you'll find anywhere.
Heaven on Seven is owned by Jimmy Bannos and his brother, George (right). The story of how Heaven on Seven started is sort of unique. Jimmy Bannos and his brother began to wash dishes in the family restaurant at an early age. His love of cooking was evident as a growing teen-aged boy.
Jimmy Bannos went off to cooking school and rejoined the family in 1980. The Bannos' family then opened a small coffee shop on the seventh floor of a the Garland Building on N. Wabash in Chicago (see map) and called it the New Garland Coffee Shop.
Jimmy Bannos began to make Cajun and creole dishes in addition to selling coffee and snacks. People would crowd the restaurant sampling the Cajun and non-Cajun foods that Jimmy would prepare.
Jimmy Bannos and his wife went to New Orleans on vacation and fell in love with the culture. He became friends with noted chef Emeril Lagasse and immersed himself in learning more about Cajun and creole cooking.
Bannos came back and after a while, the family coffee shop had turned completely to a Cajun and creole menu. Food critics hailed the little seventh-floor restaurant as having the most authentic Louisiana style food outside of the city of New Orleans. Heaven on Seven was born.
The Bannos brothers opened a second location on N. Clark, but that has since closed. Their third location, which is also their biggest location, is the one on N. Rush just off of Michigan Ave. (see map). That's the one we went to for lunch when we were in Chicago recently.
Heaven on Seven's decor reminds you of a Louisiana fish shanty. There's one full wall at the Heaven on Seven location on Rush - dubbed "The Wall of Fire" - that is nothing but a collection of hot sauce bottles the Bannos' have collected over the years. It's pretty impressive.
It was sort of cool outside the day we went in, so I thought something warm from their menu would be perfect. I ordered a bowl of their gumbo along with a side of their jambalaya while Cindy got a cup of their gumbo and a side of the red beans and rice. I also got one of their famous Bloody Mary's followed by an ice cold beer.
The food is so rich and filling at Heaven on Seven. Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs. I finished the bowl of gumbo, but had problems with finishing the small side of jambalaya. Cindy, too, finished her cup of gumbo and only had about 5 or 6 bites of the red beans and rice. So filling, but - oh! - so good.
The one thing about Heaven on Seven is that it leans to the expensive side. The food we had, a Bloody Mary and a beer, and a soft drink for Cindy came to about $43.00. For lunch. Ouch. But the food is so damn good, I didn't bitch much.
The original Heaven on Seven is now open only a couple days a week and only through the lunch hours. The location on Rush is the flagship location and they have a third Heaven on Seven restaurant in suburban Naperville (see map). And the Bannos brothers just opened a new restaurant that specializes in breakfast and lunch called Juicy-O in Downers Grove (see map).
Heaven on Seven is one of my favorite restaurants for the atmosphere, the food and the taste sensations. It's definitely a treat each time we go.
(Update - In January of 2015, a judge in Chicago ordered Heaven on Seven's Michigan Ave. location closed due to non-payment of back rent. Owner Jimmy Bannos said that they were planning on closing this location before the judge's decree to focus on the original Wabash St. location and the location out in Naperville.)