Let’s be totally stereotypical for a minute, shall we? When a restaurant concept transplants from New York to Chicago, I generally expect the forces behind said restaurant to talk about how they’re bringing unique, previously-unknown-to-us-yokels ingredients and obscure combinations to our quaint, cold Midwestern village (and if you think I’m exaggerating, let me show you about 2000 interview transcripts). That’s why it was such a novel experience to talk to the team behind The Smith, whose motto could be “let’s just be nice and serve good food.”
The River North location of the Smith, which opened on Monday, will be the seventh outpost of the concept. That said, the reason it’s expanded so far is a combination of good vibes, an approachable menu, and having a bit of a loud party atmosphere, but that just means it’ll fit right in the neighborhood — and possibly force local bars to up their game. “We serve recognizable dishes that come from really good sources that we know,” says founder Jeff LaCourt. “A lot of what we do is about sourcing.”
LaCourt emphasizes the Smith’s attention to detail. For example, LaCourt can (and did) provide a five-minute monologue on exactly how potatoes for The Smith are sourced, processed (they have a dedicated potato guy), and then cooked and turned into their much-loved fries. “I could have the exact same conversation about anything on the menu,” says LaCourt.
So what’s on this menu? It’s a pretty solid “best of” list for after work food-with-friends-and-booze: burgers, snacks, pasta, steaks, pizza, and large salads. Based on the menu’s font alone, you’d probably guess that there are shishito peppers, fish tacos, tuna tartare, Brussels sprouts, and mac n’ cheese on the menu, and you’d be right. But that kinda misses the point. “Everything is about doing simple things really well — there’s something for everyone on this menu.”
The pasta is all homemade, the burgers are thoughtfully designed, the oysters are picked from specific farms, shipped to the table within a day and a half and served with homemade habanero vinegar, instead of Tabasco, for the extra flavor and kick. The Smith has even come up with a way to make Malört delicious — a cocktail called the Clark and Kedzie that combines gin, vermouth, and Malört to create a Chicago take on a negroni. The Smith is open now for dinner. Look for the addition of lunch, brunch and breakfast in the coming months, eventually transitioning into a full all-day-dining lineup.