If chef John McLean's beef-and-beer haven Burger Bar is the most American concept in Chicago, his new South-Loop venture is the opposite. Coming September 25 from the Levy Restaurants vet and his business partner Martin Murch is the Euro-steeped dual-storefront Sociale and Café Press (800 S. Clark, South Loop), a small-plates restaurant and an adjoining farmhouse coffee shop.
Sparked by McLean's and Murch's various trips to Europe through decades in the restaurant biz, Sociale will promote communal dining by way of shareables from the Mediterranean. Ingredients will skew wonky (sumac-seared sea scallops with pistachio butter, manchego-cheese flatbread), and most dishes will be cooked on a wood-fired grill at the center of the rustic 120-seat space. For dinnertime traditionalists, the menu will boast a few larger single-serving entrees (see the wet-aged bone-in ribeye) and a dessert program including buttercake, homemade ice cream, and zeppole—basically tiny Italian doughnut holes.
Next door, 22-seat Café Press will sling your standard Eurocafé fare—paninis, salads, and a deluxe selection of pastry—but what's special is a coffee program by Sparrow Roastery, who up until now eschewed retail locations for restaurants (including many with Michelin stars). "[Owner] Chris Chacko is relentless in his craft," says Murch, "sourcing all these single-origin beans from around the globe." Concretely, that means flavor profiles that are mysterious even to Café Press's owners, but patrons can expect a spread of rich, nitrous-infused teas and, of course, decadent gourmet sweets (doughnuts, anyone?).