The adjective “farm-to-table” usually elides a significant distance between the farm and the table. Homestead (1924 W. Chicago Ave.; no phone), a restaurant opening in July on the second floor above Roots Handmade Pizza, collapses that distance to only a few feet. A 1,000-square-foot farm and two vertical hanging gardens sit in view of 85 outdoor and 45 indoor seats. “I will be interacting with customers as the chef out there standing in the garden conversing with them and handing them fresh products,” says John Wayne Formica, the chef. “Maybe I’ll go back to the kitchen and prepare something for the guest that is literally right out of the garden.”
Formica’s road to chefdom—a four-generation vocation in his family—wound first through the military, including in Iraq in 2002. He was medically discharged, and he found cooking therapeutic. He attended the Cordon Bleu program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, interned in Italy, and then worked on the opening teams of both C-House and Sunda. Rodelio Aglibot at Sunda connected him with Greg Mohr and Scott Weiner, who own both Homestead and Roots, as well as The Fifty/50 and the West Town Bleeding Heart Bakery & Café.
The menu at Homestead will consist of about 15 shareable plates and three desserts, all influenced by Formica’s Italian and Lebanese heritage as well as a research and development trip to Asia. His Two-Way Potato fills a crisped potato cylinder with local goat cheese mashed potatoes and plates it with greens from the rooftop farm and shaved summer truffles. “The garden will influence every dish,” he says. Revae Schneider of the cocktail consultancy Femme du Coupe created about eight cocktails using ingredients from the farm as well.
Homestead will not take reservations, and Formica says the average per-person check, including a few shared plates and a drink, will be about $50. And the restaurant is also taking another buzzword seriously: “seasonal.” It will close in October until next spring.