Next spring, David Friedman, the chef-owner of Epic Burger (517 S. State St.; 312-913-1373), plans to open another Epic—this time at 1000 West North Avenue in the former Transitions Bookplace space next to what was once a Whole Foods. Expect the same menu—natural ingredients, hand-crafted burgers—but a look and feel very different from the colorful South Loop store. “I’m trying to get the décor to align a little better with the food,” says Friedman. “Although we get a lot of compliments with the current store, and it’s a lot of fun, it feels a little bit too much [like] fast food to me. I want something more natural, materials less plastic. Softer color palette. Warmer. And there’s plenty of free parking.”
The Harris Wheel
OK, Scott Harris (Francesa’s): You win. You announce a new restaurant every week, and we can no longer keep up. Harris’s latest gambit is Francesca’s on Chestnut in the Seneca Hotel (200 E. Chestnut St.) come late January. “We are going to freshen up the place, bring in an old antique bar and give it an antiquey fun look,” says Harris, who already owns parts of 22 operating restaurants. So, to recap: He’s got Purple Pig coming in the third week in December with Jimmy Bannos, then Francesca’s on Chestnut, followed closely by Aldino’s with Dean Zanella, then Nella on Taylor with Nella Grassano in March. Then will he rest? “No, we’re doing a Francesca’s in Madison, then in Scottsdale and Raleigh,” he says. A barbecue project called Howling Hog is on the backburner. Slacker.
“Once you put bacon in a salad, it’s no longer a salad. It just becomes a game of Find the Bacon in the Lettuce.” –Jim Gaffigan (b. 1966), American comedian
Karyn’s on Green (130 S. Green St.; 312-226-6155), a 100-seat vegan offshoot of Karyn’s Fresh Corner, is slated to open in early January in the West Loop. “This restaurant will be a more upscale version of the food we currently do, but still very comfortable and accessible,” says Jamie McKeown, assistant to the owner Karyn Calabrese. “Not fine dining”—entrées roughly $12 to $20—“but a higher level of vegan food.” This means a menu of soups, salads, pizzas, “something similar to fried chicken,” and small plates meant to imitate crab cakes and scallops. “It’ll be about 85 percent cooked, and maybe 15 percent raw,” says McKeown, who also promises a small to-go market and a “huge, beautiful bar.”
“We might do it again down the road,” says Lettuce Entertain You’s Rich Melman, regarding Vong’s Thai Kitchen (6 W. Hubbard St.; 312-644-8664), which will close at the end of the year. “I really like the restaurant. It’s one of my favorites for lunch.” Vong’s staff will be relocated to other Lettuce places. Meanwhile, Lettuce has set its sights on Block 37 for The Block, a “Foodlife-type” concept with multiple kitchens and kiosks. “We are going to wait and see what happens with the project,” says Melman.
5 Questions for Daniel Rissman
For the past eight months, Rissman, a senior at New Trier High School in Winnetka, has run a student organization called Food Taxi, wherein local businesses donate bread and baked goods, and volunteers deliver it to soup kitchens every Sunday.
D: Where did you get the idea for this?
DR: At New Trier we have a program called Social Service Board. It’s a ninth-period class. Members of the board lead groups to different organizations in the community—soup kitchens, elderly homes, special-needs kids. One of the teachers on this board was doing bread delivery and I had the idea that there is so much wasted food in our communities. If there was an easy way to connect all the parties, we could work toward solving hunger within our communities.
D: So you created the website?
DR: Food Taxi is all based around the website, created and generously donated by Terry Kasdan from atcommunications. It’s almost self-sufficient. Volunteers can sign up to do a delivery from a bakery to a soup kitchen, and soup kitchens or businesses can sign up to donate or receive a donation.
D: Who is donating?
DR: Currently our main donor is a local bakery. [For legal reasons, Rissman could not name the bakery.] Every Sunday, they donate five-to-eight giant plastic bags filled with bagels, bread, pastries, and whatever they have left over.
D: Are there any costs involved?
DR: That’s what’s unique about this organization. There are no administrative fees. The baked goods are donated. The volunteers donate their time and gas.
D: What’s your plan for the future?
DR: Planning on going to college. After that I’m not sure. I would like to do some kind of charity work, whether international or local. My dream would be to run some kind of nonprofit organization.
Pollack’s Quick Hit
Hearty (3819 N. Broaday; 773-868-9866), the new cozy-chic spot from the Hearty Boys, Dan Smith and Steve McDonaugh, lives and dies by creative spins on industrial-strength comfort food—bacon-and-caramelized-onion meat loaf, lobster pot pie, southern fried chicken. I plunged right in with deep-fried mac-and-cheese squares. Trust me: Two giant corn flake–crusted squares of cheesy elbows are game changers and not as life-threatening as they sound. The double-cut pork chop has a lock on juiciness and looked swell under a fried duck egg. For the faint of heart, there is always a campfire fish special, but anyone who doesn’t finish with the rustic pumpkin tart and ginger ice cream will certainly learn from his mistake.
Things to Do
- Enjoy the complimentary appetizer buffet (filet sliders, pizza, barbecue shrimp) at Gibsons Rosemont (5464 N. River Rd., Rosemont; 847-928-9900) between 4 and 6 p.m. every weekday.
- Head to Wave on a Wednesday night and investigate chef Kristine Subido’s monthly take on international street food. December is the cuisine of Thailand; you get a drink plus any three items from the five-item cart for just $10.
- Get free chestnuts roasted on an open fire between 4 and 7 p.m. any night through Christmas at Seasons Lounge (120 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-649-2349).
Dot Dot Dot . . .
After only seven months in Boystown, Wally & Agador’s Gourmet Café, Michael Lachowicz’s little sandwicheria/gourmet takeaway, has closed. “I sold it to a French guy who found me by accident at Restaurant Michael,” says Lachowicz. “I think he is going to do a food operation.” . . . Ari Bendersky, a local writer, with his partner Matt Marcus, has launched Foodie, a Chicago-based phone app that connects a slew of good restaurants (Naha, Takashi, Boka) with eaters. How? “The restaurants are creating unique exclusive specials and offers that you can only get through Foodie,” says Bendersky. . . . Goose Island Brewpub’s new chef, Andrew Hroza, is a certified cicerone, a sort of sommelier for craft beer. . . . Restaurants & Institutions’ has made 20 menu predictions for 2010. Interesting stuff.