A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
When brainstorming the vibe of Hubbard Inn (110 W. Hubbard St.; 312-222-1331), an 8,000-square-foot, two-floor European-inspired restaurant opening for dinner Thursday, the proprietors found a lodestar. “Talking about our favorite things about travel and design and food and beverages, we all drew the analogy of Ernest Hemingway,” says Daniel Alonso, who owns Hubbard Inn with Adolfo Garcia and David Mitria. For the décor, they chose what they imagined Hemingway would have brought back to the United States from his travels—Moroccan tiles, antique European chairs, more than 40 commissioned pieces of art, and more than 5,000 old books. (Presumably, Papa didn’t bring this stuff back because his suitcase would have been too heavy.) For the food, Bob Zrenner (North Pond, X/O, Branch 27) developed a menu of sharable dishes with European ingredients such as medjool dates, Cabrales cheese, and chorizo. The menu is categorized into bar snacks and flatbreads (both served until 2 a.m.), as well as small plates, salads, and burgers and club sandwiches. The owners hope to imbue the place with a sense of theatricality, joy of life, and the passion of craftsmanship, Alonso says. “I see the bohemian spirit manifest itself in two beautiful industries: the arts and also hospitality. You think bohemian, you think Moulin Rouge, singing and dancing, but I think hospitality gets lost in there,” he says.
John Manion, who made his name at the now-shuttered Mas, is leaving his job helming the kitchen at Branch 27 to dedicate himself to opening his own place in the Wicker Park–Bucktown–Ukrainian Village area. “I’m not getting any younger,” he says. “The time is now.” He’ll stay on at Branch 27 through Valentine’s Day, and then he hopes to open in a year or so. Manion describes what his restaurant would look like in a perfect world.
“I want it to be a place where people can go for a quick bite, a cocktail, a glass of wine, a beer, and at the same time come in on a Saturday night and do it up. Sit down at a big table and eat. It’s going to be sort of Latin soul food. I don’t want to say small plates because [that trend is] just so played out. [Combined] with the bar, it has in the neighborhood of 100 seats. I want to focus on wine. The beverage program is probably as important as the food program at this juncture. I really know what I like, and that’s what I’m going to cook.”
Although the past year has seen more barbecue here than at any time since the Chicago Fire, most of the new places have not allied themselves with a particular regional style. Not so with Austin BBQ (226 W. Front St., Wheaton; 630-690-0526), a Texas-style barbecue restaurant that opened January 8th. The owner/pit master, Doug Pierce, installed a kitchen and a J & R Oyler smoker in the space, formerly the banquet room of Emilio’s Tapas Bar. The menu covers the usual barbecue territory of brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and chicken, but it also includes clod, a.k.a. beef shoulder, a tricky cut. “Brisket has a quite a bit of fat in it, so it’s not as difficult to cook,” says Pierce, who owned Rosati’s Pizza until December 2009. “Clod is much leaner and more difficult to smoke properly.” As in Texas, the meats come with white bread or crackers. Unlike Texas, there’s two feet of snow just outside the front door.
Six Questions for John Fuente
Fuente co-owns Prix Fixe (4835 N. Western Ave., 773-681-0651) with his wife, Alisa Gaylon. The restaurant, which opened February 5th, gives diners a choice of three dishes for each of three courses for $35. As of yesterday, the restaurant also offers small plates such as brined olives and braised pork belly.
Dish: After cooking in Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Dallas, how did you wind up in Chicago?
John Fuente: My wife. She’s a chef as well as pastry chef. She does both. She’s one of those multitaskers. She was also a public defender for Cook County.
D: She gave up law for a restaurant?
JF: She thinks of it more as escaping.
D: Tell me about Prix Fixe. What is the décor like?
JF: I would say romantic and definitely European. Maybe even kind of Parisian. One of the things I was really interested in was creating a conceptual space that included photography. We have a local artist who is curating for us: Michele Wayman.
D: So you have photography on the walls?
JF: Yes. Black-and-white photography. Since we do local ingredients with European influences, one wall is all Chicago and the other wall is all pictures from Michele’s travels in Europe.
D: What do you mean by local?
JF: We do a lot of work with farm cooperatives. We’re trying to stay in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana for almost all of our ingredients.
D: And what about the kitchen?
JF: It’s the most open kitchen you are probably ever going to see in Chicago. It’s separated by a waist-high counter. As a guest, you can literally get up out of your seat, walk over, and watch your entire dinner be prepared. More or less like a diner setup, just a lot better looking.
Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” —Sophia Loren (1934– ), Italian actress
• Pollack dishes up deep thoughts on old-school food journalism in the age of the amateur critic.
• The poutine is no slouch, but steak tartare is king at Leopold.
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
Things to Do
1. Make a beeline to Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand (66 E. Randolph St.; 312-742-8419) on February 16th for Buzz About Bees, a free event swarming with local beekeepers eager to share their experience and tips. Free honey tastings sweeten the deal.
2. Fuel your appetite at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (25 E. Ohio St.; 312-329-9463 and 960 Milwaukee Ave., Lincolnshire; 847-793-0333), where a selection of five cocktails, five wines, and five apps are six bucks a pop seven days a week. The Fleming’s prime burger (regularly $12) gets our vote for best value.
3. Stock up on locally made sweets for your sweet at the Valentine’s Day Pastry Market at Logan Square Kitchen (2333 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-2333) on February 12th and 13th.
4. Sign up to score a table at Next (953 W. Fulton Market; no phone yet), Grant Achatz’s hotly anticipated, ticket-holders-only restaurant. The sooner you join Next’s e-mail list, the sooner you can call dibs when the restaurant opens next month.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The mighty Melman brothers expand their Hubbard Street reign with the casual-chic Paris Club (59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800), debuting tonight in the former Brasserie Jo space. International mega-toque Jean Joho (Everest) lent his culinary expertise to the menu of updated French classics. . . . The West Town boom continues with the February 10th opening of Frontier (1072 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-772-4322), a multilevel gastropub with a game-heavy menu that includes venison cheese steak and a pulled boar sandwich. . . . Rosalia’s Deli (241 N. York Rd., Elmhurst; 630-516-3354), a thin-crust pizza, gelato, and panini spot that opened in mid-January, is named after both the mother and the daughter of the owner, Josh Battaglia. The restaurant is an expansion of Angelo’s Ristorante, which is named after Battaglia’s dad. . . . Rick Bayless is serving up four square meals—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and margaritas—to weary O’Hare travelers. Tortas Frontera, a quick-serve oasis offering Xoco-esque tortas and molletes, along with customizable guac or yogurt concoctions, is now open in Terminal 1. A second location is slated to open in Terminal 3 this summer. . . . They’re firing up the woks in Wheaton for the February 17th opening of Wok ’n Fire (120 E. Liberty Dr., Wheaton; 630-665-1440), the pan-Asian spot’s fourth suburban location. . . . Even more woks are sizzlin’ in Barrington at Chinese/Japanese/sushi newcomer PL8 (736 W. Northwest Hwy., Barrington; 847-382-1988).