A 230-seat all-night diner downtown: Really? “Yes,” says Peter Sakoufakis, the owner of Eggsperience (35 W. Ontario St.; 312-870-6773). “We opened Monday morning [February 8th] at 6 a.m., and we’re never closing after that. We’re throwing away the key.” The last two inhabitants of the bright River North corner space—Masck and Graze—were duds, but Eggsperience may be a better bet, with successful outlets in Glenview, Naperville, and Bannockburn. Eggspect homemade crêpes, pancakes, skillets, omelets, and sandwiches, plus a full juice/smoothie/coffee bar. Also prepare for eggscesses of eggsuberant clubgoers eggsclaiming over odd-hours breggfests and eggspounding on where to go neggst.
“Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.” –Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), American writer
Home on La Grange
Three Bacas—Nick, Carson, and Rich—partnered to open Nicksons Eatery (30 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange; 708-354-4995) in downtown La Grange last fall. The menu, which features regional American cuisine, including Colorado elk burger, Texan brisket tacos, and Carolina shrimp and grits, was conceived by Nick Baca, a veteran of Wildfire and Mon Ami Gabi. “The menu is a little eclectic, but not intimidating,” says Rich Baca, Nick’s brother. (Carson Baca is Nick’s wife.) The 75-seat dining room has oak tables, brown leather booths, and an unusual objet d’art: “We have a flying pig that is pretty cool suspended from the ceiling,” Rich says. “A metal pig that is painted blue and red and has wings.” Given the risk of opening a new restaurant, combined with the hurdle of the current economy, it’s probably a good omen to be a place where pigs already fly.
Where There’s Smoke
Sweet Charity Smith and Drew Masur, two of four partners in Brand BBQ Market (2824 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-687-8148), are chasing their passion at their newish barbecue joint in Logan Square. “We both are huge fans of meat,” Smith says. As the pit mistress, Smith not only smokes the classics—pork and beef brisket, chicken, and baby back ribs—but also some unusual things, including pulled duck, pork belly confit, and tofu—all using house-made dry rub and seven house-made sauces. Passion-chasing has down-to-earth consequences. “I went out with my friends a few weeks ago,” Smith says. “They knew I was there. I had a six-foot radius of smoke aroma.”
What you’ll find at FoodLove (508 Western Ave., Lake Forest; 847-295-4025), a North Shore caterer and market that Maria O’Rourke, a former partner in a D.C. catering company and a “recovering lawyer,” opened in October:
- $3 pints of soup made from scratch every day.
- Grocery items from local food artisans, which are harder to find now that farmers’ markets are closed.
- Prepared dinners for takeout, including homemade chicken pot pie for one ($5.95) and turkey meat loaf with roasted red potatoes ($7.95). “Opening a catering company in our current economy, you have to be a special kind of crazy,” says O’Rourke. “I needed to make sure the market was affordable. Not just another gourmet store that was overpriced for when you have a party, but a place where you could get food for your kids.”
- Homemade desserts, such as coconut white chocolate blondies and double ginger cookies.
- Monthly charity programs. In November, FoodLove patrons could trade a can of food for a cookie. This month, FoodLove is supplying scout troops with cookies to decorate and give to local nursing homes and hospitals.
- O’Rourke. “I have not spent as much time at home lately as I would like to,” she says.
We always wonder whether businesses that offer free Wi-Fi suffer by welcoming laptop hawks who order a cup of coffee then sponge free Internet the rest of the day. Winston’s Cafe (5001 N. Clark St.; 773-728-0050), a new 24-hour hangout at the southern edge of Andersonville, is a good case study. “Business is really slow,” says Jim Stephens, the owner. “People are hanging out, and we love that. But we’re not getting the grab-and-go people.” Stephens, a former bartender who wanted to open his own bar in the 95-seat space, was turned down for a liquor license last spring and cannot reapply until May 19th. To make ends meet in the meantime, he’s serving handmade sandwiches and panini—plus Metropolis coffee, pastries, pizzas, and a different soup every day. “I realized that I had to do something,” he says. “I’m paying the rent here and really just can’t sit on the space.” Apparently, others can.
Things to Do
- Eat many, many ribs at Smoke Daddy (1804 W. Division St.; 773-772-6656) on Wednesdays, for $22.95. That price buys you fries, one side, and as many baby back ribs, spare ribs, or rib tips as you can eat.
- Mix and mingle at A Taste for the Arts on February 18th at LuxeHome Boutiques in the Merchandise Mart. Food from Rick Bayless (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, Xoco), Bill Kim (Urbanbelly, Belly Shack), and Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno), among several other culinary luminaries, will be served alongside craft beer, paired wine, specialty cocktails, and Mexican hot chocolate. Proceeds benefit the Chicago Academy for the Arts. Call 312-421-0202 or visit Chicagoartsacademy.org for more info.
- Wonder how long it will take Stephanie Izard to turn this wreckage into Girl & the Goat (809-813 W. Randolph St.).
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The chef Bob Zrenner added 6 by moving from Branch 27 (1371 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-850-2700) to 33 Club (1419 N. Wells St.; 312-664-1419). If Catch 35 or Bin 36 have openings, we know who to bet on. . . . Congratulations to Calumet Fisheries (3259 E. 95th St., 773-933-9855), the unpretentious seafood shack on the Far South Side, which won a James Beard Foundation America’s Classics award, recognizing “restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” It joins former Chicago winners Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap (1073 W. Vernon Park Pl.; 312-733-3393) and The Berghoff (17 W. Adams St.; 312-427-3170). . . . Red O, the Los Angeles restaurant with a Rick Bayless–created menu, announced an April 2010 opening date. . . . The Sun-Times reported on a Yorkville grade-schooler’s “Crispy Fish Stick Wrap with Peanut Sauce” recipe, which could win him a $25,000 scholarship. . . . Epic (112 W. Hubbard St.; 312-222-4940) is no longer serving lunch, less than two months after opening. The restaurant’s spokeswoman says lunch service “may” restart in the spring, when the rooftop opens. . . . The City of Chicago teamed up with the fancy-phone app Foursquare to create a Chicago-style hot dog merit badge, which you can earn by visiting five spots on a list of hot dog sellers. Hey, tourism promoters, where’s Byron’s?