It may be named to evoke a small, lost-in-time counter restaurant, but Bernie’s (660 N. Orleans St., River North, no phone yet) is huge—and is scheduled to land at the end of July. Bernie’s seats slightly less than 200 in a two-floor space, one floor of which comprises a partially covered, 80-seat rooftop. It’s the first Chicago project for the Detroit-based restaurant company Peas & Carrots.
“Chicago is a tougher, more competitive city [than Detroit],” says Zack Sklar, the founder of Peas & Carrots. For Bernie’s, he brought on the Hinsdale native Ryan Sand, an alumnus of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, as partner and executive chef. The design group 555 International (Nico Osteria, Balena, et al.) created the decor.
“There will be a seasonal, rustic, Mediterranean-influenced menu,” Sand says, citing dishes such as a salmon chop (a piece cut from near the tail, bone left in) wrapped in pancetta and served with lentils and green-olive chimichurri.
Sklar says the dishes don’t hew to specific culinary traditions, as when they put chicharrones and a Calabrian chile on beef tartare with the otherwise usual accompaniments. “If Ryan and I think that a dish needs a chile pepper that’s more indigenous to China, so be it,” he says. “It’s about making great food—we don’t hesitate from taking flavor profiles from other cultures.” A wood-fired oven visible from the dining room will bake pizzas, naan, pita bread, chicken, and roasted oysters, which come with chorizo and smoked paprika.
Peas & Carrots plans four more openings around the country this year. They may have to think about adding another vegetable to their name to reflect the bounty.