One of the beautiful truths about Belgian-style pommes frites is that you can dress them in just about anything — a classic ketchup, truffle mayo, perhaps a white-wine broth paired with a bowl of mussels — and the result will be delicious. But no one in Chicago is making pommes frites quite like Friistyle (5059 S. Prairie Ave., Bronzeville), an unassuming, fast-casual joint that opened in Bronzeville just over a month ago.
Dedicated entirely to Belgian fries, Friistyle serves up piles of crisp potatoes covered with decadent options, like chicken wings, roast lamb, jerk salmon filets, and Italian beef. Each is seasoned with special sauces, all made in house, to pack in extra flavors — enough to keep things interesting without going overboard. The jerk salmon frites, for instance, are delicately glazed with a dill aioli and served with mango salsa to introduce a hint of sweetness; the smoked wing frites are coated with Friistyle's signature dressing, boughetto, a twist on a mild BBQ sauce.
Hyde Park native Corey Gilkey decided to create Friistyle after learning about pommes frites during a trip to Belgium. He first began selling his hefty creations last year at Boxville, a seasonal marketplace in Bronzeville that runs out of a colorful set of shipping containers.
"Once we gained a following we decided to take the concept to the recently closed Jerk Shack," says Gilkey, who also founded the streetwear brand Leaders 1354. The place was available to rent out and host events, and Gilkey began organizing collaborative pop-ups, for which chefs created new dishes every Friday. He also brought Friistyle pop-ups to other restaurants, working with chefs at spots like Seoul Taco, Triple Crown Restaurant, Kimski, and Some Like It Black, to produce unique bites.
As more and more people from various neighborhoods tasted these loaded fries, Gilkey decided he was ready to take it to the next level and opened a fully operating frites shop. "We were overwhelmed with love and support as we served over 500 patrons on our first day," he says. "The line was down the block."
The kitchen is now helmed by chef Chuck Graham, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who also runs his own catering business. Graham runs a tight kitchen — literally, twice-frying potatoes behind the small order counter before he heaps on toppings. Unlike the traditional Belgian treat, Friistyle's fries don't get scooped into a paper cone but arrive in a box — a much more appropriate container for these hefty concoctions.