Everyone grows up sooner or later, except for Peter Pan. And maybe not all restaurants, either, but so it is with John’s Place in Lincoln Park. “I’m doing a little more of an adult thing after being a family restaurant for two decades,” says John Manilow, the titular John. Manilow plans for John’s Place’s replacement, White Oak Tavern & Inn (1200 W. Webster Ave., 773-525-6670) to open in late summer. The other John’s Place, on Roscoe Village’s main drag, will remain John’s Place.
Manilow chose another John, John Asbaty, as White Oak’s chef. While finishing up his finance degree at the University of Nebraska, Asbaty discovered banking didn’t light his stove. He switched to cooking after graduation, moving straight from culinary school to Trio and Alinea, both under Grant Achatz. “I was respecting the heck out of that [fine-dining] approach,” he says, “but the stuff that stuck with me was the really simple food rooted in ingredients and the people behind it. Primal but delicious.” (Asbaty trivia: His wife is a professional bowler.)
White Oak, named for the state tree of Illinois and a common bourbon-barrel wood, will feature Midwestern foods and beverages. Asbaty mentions homemade breads and ice creams and straightforward dishes such as slow-cooked short ribs finished in a cast-iron pan. “It’s delicious because we are taking the time to cook the short ribs longer than you normally would,” he says.
He also conceived of a fried duck leg with house-made cornbread pudding (duck fat, corn juice, buttermilk) and Midwestern mole, an analogue to Mexican mole using ingredients such as dried cherries, pecans, and black walnuts. Isn’t it nice that we’ve reached the point where adding “Midwestern” to a dish doesn’t suggest adding a can of cream of mushroom soup?