Offering pandemic takeout service was putting additional stress on Erick Williams’s already stretched-thin staff at Virtue, his revered Hyde Park restaurant, so he decided to go all in on to-go food — but at a new establishment. In October, he opened Mustard Seed Kitchen in the South Loop to offer only takeout and delivery items. He’ll also use the spot, as he does with Virtue, to prepare free meals for homeless people and underserved communities. “It’s easier if I have a space that’s set up to put out 200 meals at a time,” he explains. “I can walk out the door and deliver them and still keep doing what I am doing for the business.”

The menu consists of hearty, everyday meals, dishes that Williams enjoys eating on his days off from the fine-dining scene. “I wanted to go a step beyond what you’ll find on other [casual food] menus, plus I wanted to do a bunch of salads and pastas,” he says. Williams collaborated on Mustard Seed with a longtime colleague, chef Javier Perez (River Roast, MK).

For entrées, they’re offering portable dishes like skirt steak with potatoes and chimichurri, or rotini with Alfredo sauce, shrimp, and vegetables. Handhelds range from a fried chicken sandwich to the Good Afternoon double cheeseburger with Swiss cheese, bacon, avocado, and a fried egg. There’s also chicken gumbo and cornbread with honey butter. The latter, the only item from Virtue’s menu that’s also available at Mustard Seed, is Williams’s grandmother’s recipe. The menu is relatively affordable, too — the entrées top out at $19.99, with many well below that, and plenty of small items are priced at less than $10.

Another draw: Stephanie Hart’s Brown Sugar Bakery treats, from butter cookies to her award-winning caramel cake, which are prominently displayed in a glass case. For Williams, it was a no-brainer to bring her aboard: “Stephanie’s a huge supporter of mine, and I love her desserts, so it was a natural fit.” 49 E. Cermak Rd., South Loop