Forks in the Road Ahead
Since last November, when the first hints arose about III Forks (333 E. Benton Pl.; no phone yet) opening a location in the River East development near the Aqua tower, details have been scarce. Now, the silence has been broken. “We are going to the steak-house capital of the world,” says Tommy Nevill, the chef/partner in the Dallas-based chain. “We have grown as a company, and we have to bring ourselves to that level and show the world that we are ready.” The restaurant, scheduled to open in late September, will seat 400 to 500 in a dining room with a great park view, including space for 100 on an upper-level open deck. The steaks are wet-aged prime, and the formula is classic steak house, meaning “naked steaks, large á la carte sides, big desserts,” says Danny Payne, the proprietor. Both Payne and Nevill cite service as a point of distinction from Chicago’s herd of steak houses. “[If a customer] wants a skirt steak from a different restaurant down the street, I’m going to go and pick it up for him,” Nevill says. “I’ll go to McDonald’s and buy your kid a Big Mac if I have to do it. If you come in with a family, toward the end [of the meal], I like to bring the kids back into the kitchen to give the parents a little time alone. We give the kids aprons and a marshal’s badge. They get to make their own desserts and mess around with chocolate sauce, caramel, powdered sugar, spiced pecans, berries. We let them go to town.” But they probably don’t keep the sugared-up kids overnight, which is what those parents really want.
Four Bullet Points on The Burger Point
“We have four things on the menu: burgers, wings, chili, and fries. That’s it,” says Asha Mathew, who plans to open The Burger Point (1900 S. State St.; 312-933-7846) with her boyfriend, David Esterline, between mid-August and early September.
• Burgers. Diners can build their own one-third-pound griddle-cooked burger (chicken, turkey, and veggie patties are also available) and order it at in-store iPad kiosks. Or, they can select from predesigned specials, such as the Burger Point (roasted chili peppers, fried egg, smoked bacon, pepper Jack, pretzel roll), the Crunchy (American cheese, potato chips, French onion sauce, brioche), and the Jersey Shore (toasted pepperoni, homemade red sauce, fresh mozzarella, brioche).
• Wings. More than ten sauces will rotate seasonally, including original Buffalo, Three Mile Island (which is spicy), barbecue–honey mustard, and hot garlic.
• Chili. Original recipes for meat and veggie chili were created by Esterline. “David is an enigma,” Mathew says. “No formal training in the kitchen but an amazing talent for food. David is the mastermind behind most of this. Actually, all of this.”
• French fries. “We have a specialty fry. We call it a spiral fry on a stick,” Mathew says. It’s a whole potato, cut into spirals. Conventional sweet potato fries also appear on the menu.
“Good living is far from being destructive to good health . . . all things being equal, gourmands live much longer than other folk.” —Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826), French lawyer, politician, and author of The Physiology of Taste
After running Royin Sushi Bar in Evanston for four years, Sam Suwanratanabus ditched the fish to open Urban Vegan (1605 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-404-1109), with a partner, Narisa Supalak. “It’s [my] first try for vegan, and after three weeks it is very popular, and I am surprised,” he says. Like most meat-shunners other than Prince Fielder, the restaurant is small—16 seats. But the menu is not, with a slew of noodle and vegetable dishes, including the Freshy Roll, with soy chicken, rice noodles, romaine lettuce, bean sprouts, basil leaf, and homemade hoisin sauce, and the P.E.T., which is pumpkin, eggplant, and tofu in a garlic sauce with basil and chili. No actual pets will be served.
Jin Thai (5458 N. Broadway; 773-681-0555), which replaced Panda Panda in Edgewater, opened June 17 with contributions from a whole family. Chai Roongseang, the father, is the general manager. His wife, Jintana, cooks and lent her nickname to the restaurant. Their 26-year-old daughter designed the space, and their 24-year-old son helped with the financing. The menu consists of Thai specialties, such as Thai Crépe, with coconut flakes, shrimp, and steamed bean sprouts, and Angel Wings, an appetizer of minced chicken, vegetables, and cellophane noodles stuffed in deboned chicken wings, then steamed, battered, and deep-fried. Classic Thai movies (with subtitles) are screened on the restaurant’s projection TV. Fulfilling one of life’s eternal verities, the daughter set up the TV.
New Nosh in One’s Belt
When Felipe Caro, the owner of Picante Taqueria in Wicker Park, heard that the TV-repair space next door was becoming available, he jumped at the chance to expand. But with the glut of Mexican places in the neighborhood, it had to be something different. “When I took the space over, the windows were cinder blocks on the outside and layers of panels on the inside,” Caro says. “When I got in there and did the demo[lition], I discovered beautiful stained-glass windows.” Star of David stained glass, to be precise, from the Jewish funeral parlor that occupied the space until the 1950s. Caro then conceived and in June opened Delish Diner (2018 W. Division St.; 773-276-5200), a retro spot with a shmear of Jewish, which shows in menu items such as matzo ball soup, Reuben sandwiches, and eggs Benowitz—a toasted NYC Bagel Deli bagel topped with Nova lox, a poached egg, and hollandaise. The cash-only diner also makes its own pie and cinnamon rolls. Good name on this place—although “delish” isn’t Yiddish, it should be.
He Said It
“It’s a different product and a different experience. Frozen yogurt in the seventies and eighties was more like soft-serve ice cream. It was nonfat. But it really didn’t taste like yogurt. That was one thing that put Pinkberry on the map. [Pinkberry’s yogurt] is very tart. It tastes like yogurt because it is yogurt. It’s a nice blend of tart and sweet, and it has a clean finish, unlike a lot of dairy products that leave a milky film on your tongue and palate.” —Ron Graves, the CEO of Pinkberry, the SoCal-based frozen-yogurt chain that opened its first Chicago location (635 N. State St.; 312-475-0641) last Friday. A second location is in the works at 1533 North Wells Street in September.
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Things to Do
1. Meet chef Sarah Stegner at Green City Market’s info booth at 9:30 a.m. this Saturday for a personal tour of the market. Afterward, continue the party with a communal brunch at 11:30 a.m. at Stegner’s restaurant Prairie Fire (215 N. Clinton St.; 312-382-8300). For $18.50, you’ll dine on market-inspired dishes, like French toast crafted from Crumb bread and topped with Burton’s Maplewood Farm maple syrup. Call 312-382-8300 to sign up.
2. Wish a happy 70th to the old-timer Gene & Georgetti (500 N. Franklin St.; 312-527-3718), as the steak house marks its birthday with three themed nights—a retro cocktail party, a 1940s silver-screen soiree, and a big-band swing bash—tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday. The celebration also features a prix fixe menu: appetizer, salad, entrée (we’ll take the eight-ounce broiled filet, thanks), side dish, dessert, and two cocktails for the 1940s price of $15.25 per person. Ah, the good old days.
3. Stick to the birthday/eating theme and hit up the Cooking Channel’s Frozen Treat Truck, which will be stationed outside Chicago French Market (131 N. Clinton St.; 312-575-0306) on July 16, dishing up free frozen treats from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in honor of the channel’s first birthday.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The ownership- and space-sharing duo Roka Akor and Bombay Spice are up and running in River North. . . . After a whirlwind face-lift, Francesca’s Forno is reopening July 20. . . . The luau is over at Trader Vic’s, which poured its final mai tai early this month. . . . West on North, a kid-friendly American food spot in Humboldt Park, opens July 18. . . . Former Charlie Trotter’s chef Gregory Ellis alights elsewhere in Lincoln Park later this summer when he opens 2Sparrows, a breakfast/brunch/lunch spot, with fellow Trotter’s alum Steven Fladung. . . . Chicagoans can now get their daily fix of La Colombe coffee (the java of choice at Alinea and Old Town Social), at the Philly-based roaster’s now-open West Loop café. . . . Arriva Dolce, a Highland Park gelateria and café helmed by a duo of school friends, opened last month with a roster of small-batch gelato flavors, including dark-chocolate orange and s’mores.