Not long ago, a place like Dusek’s would have registered as little more than a blip on the radar. “Serious” diners wouldn’t have paid much mind to a casual, beer-focused neighborhood establishment that served things such as ham and cheese sandwiches and lobster rolls, much less one that did so in a relic of a building in Pilsen.
But those serious diners are currently at the bar at Dusek’s, waiting for a table with the rest of us. Partners Bruce Finkelman, Craig Golden, and Jared Wentworth, who caught lightning in a whiskey bottle at Longman & Eagle in 2010, have tapped into something even timelier (and better) at Dusek’s. The confident restaurant embodies everything about dining in this city right now: what Chicagoans want to eat and drink, where they’re willing to go, how much they’re willing to pay, how they want to feel.
Chicagoans want food they can recognize and share—say, Ball jars of homemade pickles with thick Texas-toasty slices of sourdough—but also dishes that challenge them, such as sweet-salty matsutake mushroom risotto with pumpkin, soy-caramel chestnuts, and Asian pear relish. They crave things that satisfy (cheddar-stuffed pretzels with spicy beer mustard) and excite (barbecued shrimp and grits with a one-hour egg). And Chicagoans covet pig in countless guises: crispy pork shanks and garlic sausages and stacks of sliced artisanal ham, plus some crispy duck fat fries to split.
The chef has got to know how to do all that with top-notch ingredients and try to keep prices under $20, and the servers should be young and smart but not inaccessibly cool. Oh, and beer? There must be at least two dozen painstakingly chosen drafts that match the food in understandable but inexplicable ways, with the descriptor for each crafted as meticulously as the beer (“chocolate, vanilla, prehistoric”).
Thanks to terrific planning and Wentworth’s accomplished kitchen team, Dusek’s gets so much right that it could thrive in a condemned squat house. Yet it rules the roomy first floor of historic Thalia Hall, built in 1892 and restored to glory with tin ceilings, brass chandeliers, and a soft glow that makes everything (and everyone) look great. The whole experience declares, once and for all: This is how people eat in 2014. What does Chicago want? It wants Dusek’s.
Perfect for: Anyone who eats and/or drinks
7 Things You Should Know About Chef Jared Wentworth
- He is 40 years old and was born in Massachusetts.
- He graduated from the Culinary School of Kendall College in 1996.
- He shucked oysters for Bob Kinkead on Cape Cod, and he has worked with David Burke in New York City and Chicago and with Gordon Sinclair in Chicago. “Dumb luck after dumb luck working for great chefs.”
- He got his gig at Longman & Eagle by answering an ad on Craigslist. “I hadn’t been that insulted by an offer since I was 22, but I took it and was partnered in after five months.”
- He spends most of his time cabbing back and forth between L&E and Dusek’s.
- He loves to eat at Kai Zan. “It’s ridiculously good.”
- He keeps going “back and back and back” to Nico.