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Parlay at Joy District Wants to Elevate River North’s Bar Food

Its chef has some serious fine-dining bonafides.

Lobster pizza at Parlay   Photo: Adam Sokolowski

A dining cynic might not expect to find much in the way of interesting cuisine at a bumpin’, River North bottle-service-and-rooftop-partying spot like Joy District (112 W. Hubbard St., River North). That’s about to change, as Parlay at Joy District, the new first floor restaurant helmed by Chef Jason Hedin, brings some seriously complicated and interesting takes on bar food to the neighborhood.

“We’re not doing fried calamari, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks,” Hedin says. “I don’t want to do the same tacos, the same flatbreads, because every restaurant is doing it. People will come for a drink, but they won’t come back for a drink—we want people to come back for the food.”

Hedin’s resume is impressive, and heavily weighted towards the highest end of fine dining. He’s done time at L2O, The Peninsula, the Four Seasons, the Langham, and Alinea, so it doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to be manning the fry station cranking out what passes for fancy bar food at most clubs in town.

Take, for example, his “version” of calamari. Called Octo Poppers (yeah, go with it), these involve Hedin dry roasting octopus with curry and coconut and frying them in a homemade tempura batter infused with lemon, ginger and kaffir lime. A plate of “fries” is anything but—it’s actually a foie gras mousse “sundae” garnished with pink peppercorns and butter powder and served with daikon radish fries. “I wanted to do something different, and daikon fries turned out amazing. It really complemented and rounded out the dish.” The luxe star of the menu is the lobster and caviar pizza, which comes with an entire lobster’s worth of shellfish in the middle of the pie.

Not everything is tricks and gimmicks at Parlay. Hedin is hyper-focused on the techniques and skills he’s learned from a career in high-end restaurants. “I want to take the time to brine and marinate our chicken, or the time to build a proper jus, which takes five days,” said Hedin. “Taking all of these extra steps is going to bring guests back.” Parlay at Joy District opens Wednesday.

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