Michael Altenberg (Bistro Campagne, Crust) has found a massive, undisclosed space in Lincoln Square for his “Alabama pit barbecue” concept; now he’s just ironing out details. Plans for the two-story space include slow-cooked barbecue, authentic old-fashioned Southern drinks like Sazeracs and mint juleps, and—believe it or not—bowling. “We want to have several lanes of bocce-style bowling or pétanque,” says Altenberg. “I’m sure it’s going to be fun.” For the past four months, Altenberg has been working with his chef de cuisine at Campagne, Daniel Jacobs, on barbecue recipes based on Altenberg’s childhood in . . . Racine? “From a young age I had a babysitter from Alabama named Ruby Hardville,” says Altenberg. “She had an incredible palate and cooked really simple food: sweet potato pie, fried okra, the most awesome fried chicken I’ve ever had. One day I caught her using leftover rendered bacon fat to fry the chicken.” Hardville, who still resides in Racine, will be involved in the upcoming restaurant (due next spring), which is tentatively called either Ruby’s Pit BBQ or Hardville’s.
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” -Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), U.S. president
This winter, Roger Greenfield (Bar Louie, One North) plans to open Primebar, a 220-seat American spot at 155 North Wacker Drive. “I’m on my way to the airport right now to do a grand opening in Denver for the first one,” says Greenfield. “Chicago is second.” He describes the food as “fresh, sustainable, organic, and local,” and promises to keep the place’s carbon footprint small. “Our Denver location has an all-Colorado beer list,” he says. “We’ll try to do the same thing in Chicago.” (By that, we assume he means Illinois beer, not Colorado beer.) If you’re a local chef and you’ve always wanted to work with Greenfield, now is your chance: He’s looking for someone to head up Primebar’s kitchen.
“This is not a fine dine,” says Coskun Eskeranli, the owner of Double Apple (2750 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-327-9000), a Mediterranean market/BYO restaurant coming on July 1st. “We want to have a very gourmet healthy panini, our famous hummus and baba ghannouj, and reasonably priced fresh ingredients like romaine lettuce, tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, fresh cheese, and olive oils.” In addition to essential groceries such as gourmet pita chips, Turkish spices and cheeses, and stainless steel hookahs, the 3,000-square-foot space will also include plasma TVs, ottoman cushion seating, free Wi-Fi, and gourmet coffee. “Oh, and a game room in the back with foosball, chess, and backgammon,” says Eskeranli, who also owns part of A La Turka. “We will make Nutella panini for the kids. It’s a great place for kids.”
Carlos and Debbie Nieto (Carlos’), owners of The Happ Inn Bar and Grill (305 S. Happ Rd., Northfield; 847-784-9200), say their 150-seat spot is slated to open next month. The menu sounds pretty straightforward—burgers, wood-burning-oven pizzas, sandwiches—“But it is also going to have a little Mexican flair,” says Debbie Nieto. “We are going to do my niece’s taquitos. We are doing family recipes, like my mother’s cake in a cup. It’s chocolate, banana, and toffee.” She also promises more booths in the place (formerly Haussmann Brasserie), and a beautiful outdoor space: “Lots of flowers and trellises and hanging pots.”
A Conversation with Louie Alexakis
Alexakis, 46, is the owner of Avli Estiatorio (566 Chestnut St., Winnetka; 847-446-9300), an ambitious 112-seat Greek spot (plus a 58-seat vined patio) shooting for a July 15th opening in the Laundry Mall.
D: We understand your family has been in the food business for ages.
LA: My family had a hot-dog concession in the Park District since the 1950s that closed this year. I was selling hot dogs long before I was the legal age to do so. Greek Islands is owned by my father-in-law. My uncle owns Santorini. In the nineties, I opened up my own place in Lincoln Park, Ouzeri.
D: How is Avli going to be different?
LA: I’m going to toss in regional specialties, in addition to taking those standards and adding some pizzazz to them.
D: For example?
LA: A lot of casual dishes in Greek cooking, like moussaka and pastitsio, are [cooked] on a sheet tray. We are going to bake those individually in small casserole dishes. When you order it, 20 minutes later you will get it piping hot out of the oven with a fresh béchamel topping.
D: What else?
LA: We’re using real Mediterranean octopus, which is by far the best-tasting octopus. I’m doing my own takes on little pita flatbreads. Greek sausage with cherry tomatoes and onions and oregano. I am going to have kid kebabs. Little skewers of food with a couple sauces to dip it in.
D: Have you been to Taxim?
LA: No. I want to. When Taxim opened that was a nice thing to see, someone taking Mediterranean cooking and doing something original with it. I also want to take authentic Greek cooking and really elevate it. Traditional spinach pie in Greece is not just spinach and feta. We are going to do one with leek, fennel, and herbs wrapped in phyllo dough.
Cheap Things to Do with Your Offspring
- Dine with your child at Leona’s anytime in June and the kid gets free mac-and-cheese lasagne for National Children’s Awareness Month.
- Speaking of the little ones, the second annual Kids’ Restaurant Week is June 20th through June 28th. Those under 11 pay their age at this impressive roster of restaurants; everyone else pays $29, and a bunch of the money goes to the Green City Market.
- Order an entrée at Pompei in Oakbrook Terrace or Schaumburg on a Monday night and your kid gets a free slice of pizza.
Cheap Things to Do with Other Adults
- Get a drink at Carlucci (1801 Butterfield Rd., Downers Grove; 630-512-0990) any weekday between 4 and 7 p.m., and get an appetizer for $2.
- Dine after 7 p.m. at Petterino’s (150 N. Dearborn St.; 312-422-0150), and you can park for free and get a three-course meal for $20.
- Bring your own bottle to May Street Market (1132 W. Grand Ave.; 312-421-5547) on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, and pay no corkage—and get a three-course dinner for $25.
- Watch The Golden Spoon, here and here, Kevin Boehm’s hilariously profane short film starring Boehm (Boka) and Ryan Poli (Perennial), which skewers all things restaurants—and the whole Top Chef genre—with a razor-sharp point.