With Benjamin Gone, Has the Bubble Burst on Highland Park Dining?

After a flurry of North Shore openings, the last man standing has closed—but its owner has plans to reopen as a tapas restaurant.

Mike Hari

It was only a year and a half ago that we wrote an item about the foodie gravitation around Highland Park, with the openings of M, Benjamin, 2nd Street Bistro, and two cupcake shops. The excellent Moderno flared up and out like a Roman candle not long after. That gravitation turned out to be a black hole, as Benjamin, the last of those establishments standing, closed three weeks ago.

“The concept wasn’t right for the neighborhood,” says the eponymous chef/owner, Benjamin Brittsan. “We weren’t too pricey, but the ambiance mixed with the pricing made the place feel too pretentious. I didn’t think so, but it’s not about what I think.”

Just as John des Rosiers reworked Moderno into Royce, however, Brittsan plans to reopen in May as Benjamin Tapas (1849 2nd St., 847-748-8737) after some cosmetic changes to repaint and add more seats to promote a buzzier atmosphere. The menu will hew to the Spanish classics, such as paella, torta española, sardines a la plancha, and queso de cabra. “It’s very, very simple. But you can’t go wrong with baked goat cheese,” Brittsan says.

Homemade desserts will run along the lines of plátano con helado, a sautéed plantain with caramel sauce, candied pistachio, and vanilla ice cream. A mostly Spanish wine list will keep prices largely in the $20 to $40 range per bottle.

Brittsan hopes to open an ambitious restaurant in Chicago, possibly in Wicker Park, next spring, getting back to what he loves to do. “I want to be able to do a restaurant in the city where I can really show off,” he says. “I didn’t think I was able to do that in Highland Park at all.”

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1 year ago
Posted by TrustForce

Brittsan is so full of it. The reason that his restaurant failed had nothing to do with being in Highland Park and all to do with his concepts and delivery. When the restaurant opened 2 years ago, people quickly commented on problems with snotty waitstaff, long waits for food, inconsistent quality, and high prices. Brittsan adjusted his prices downward (not enough) but did nothing to fix the front of the house problems. I'm sorry, but when the restaurant is empty and there is a 50 minute delay between appetizer and entrée, the excuse that "we make everything from scratch and from local providers" just doesn't cut it. To say that he couldn't show off his stuff in Highland Park is just an empty excuse for his inability to produce consistent quality from his kitchen. What excuse can he give for a $17.00 Wagu burger ordered medium that arrives well done? That and many other problems falls on the chef's shoulders and no amount of shifting the blame works.

The problem is not Highland Park. The problem is the restaurants. Moderna failed because John des Rosiers didn't create a clone of Inovasi, and the quality of the first weeks rapidly fell down. Royce is in trouble as well, as the serving staff is in meltdown. The changes in the menu are not working, and unless des Rosiers can get the problems in the kitchen and the front worked out, Royce will fail as well. 2nd St. Bistro started out strong, but the quality of the food preparation dropped to unacceptable levels. If you blame Highland Park, it is because the locals are very food savvy, and do not tolerate (for the most part) poor quality.

1 year ago
Posted by benjamintapas

To make it clear, Benjamin didnt fail. There were plenty of customers who loved what we stood for. We could have kept going but we closed to reconcept. People will have bad experiences, no one is perfect. So Brittsan is not full of it. Trustforce is however entitled to his or her own opinion. Thank you.

1 year ago
Posted by fb

Interesting you wrote an earlier column about new restaurants in HP with a positive Vibe sic. Your initial interests in mere openings and not quality or business sense did not take into account the potential failure of these restaurant's. Understandable as it would not be not be interesting journalism nor a potential ad dollar generator.

Moderno unfortunately, was a disaster with poor food and staff. The concept, execution and food just did not measure up. The reinvented Royce...deep pocket investors on the hook for rent decided to stay at the table is destined for failure as soon as the rent commitment allows an exit. Again, the food is not up to par. Interesting that the investors could just replace the chef with one of the many cooks across the street for 1/10th the cost and have a much better burger product:)

Two cupcake shops across the street form each other was a recipe for disaster. The right one failed first with a product loaded with what seemed an artificial wasteland at high prices and the healthy one just could not compete with the likes of Bent Fork (The Gold Standard) or Baker Boys.

Benjamin has a shot with the Tapas concept and we wish him success in what is a tough business.

We have several great eating establishments in HP that get it right with good food, great service and the personal touch. Perhaps you should visit Abigail's, Norton's, RUB to name a few.

12 months ago
Posted by jimmybanossr

This Brittsan guy is a joke.
He has the building up for sale, I wonder if that is a hedge as I'm sure his "tapas" concept will fail.
In any case Brittsan is a talentless hack.

12 months ago
Posted by Diningoutgirl

We were regular customers at Benjamin. The food was always superb... as well as the service. Can't wait to try the tapas.

12 months ago
Posted by benjamintapas

Jimmybannosr,
First, your information is false. Second, grow up and concentrate on yourself. If this is the real jimmy bannos sr, I loved purple pig, looked up to both you and tony. But after this, I think you are the hack. Grow up.

12 months ago
Posted by jimmybanossr

Half of all people think you're full of it Brittsan, the other half won't eat your food. I guess I will just take my groups beard awards, revenue and well thought out food into the corner and cry. Tapas, ha. This guy.
Tell you what, I'll be sure to leave an autograph for you on a check when I buy your equipment when you "reconcept" for good.
Good night H.P. thanks for coming!

12 months ago
Posted by benjamintapas

Apparently im a threat. Id love to meet you in person to see who this really is. This will be my last comment since I have much more important things to do. Cheers jimmybannossr.

11 months ago
Posted by Melvin

I agree with the comments.

Inconsistent and poorly concepted food, awful waitstaff and a bottomless well of blame and narcissism.

HP is not to blame.

The guy even had his girlfriend write an anonymous response to my Yelp review accusing me of a "bad palette" and told me to go to McDonalds. Then this tool Benjamin pulled the old "come in and face me man to man crap" that he pulled up in the last comment.

When I saw the recent Kitchen Nighmares episode with the psychotically defensive woman in Scottsdale, I flashed back to my first and last visit to this shit hole.

Good luck ripping people downtown you talentless ass.

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