Chef Erling Wu-Bower has spent a lot of years working in big, high-end restaurants. His name might be familiar to you from his acclaimed stints at places like Nico Osteria and Pacific Standard Time. But after all of that, Wu-Bower wanted to make a big change with his next project. “My business partner, Josh Tilden, and I really wanted to build a restaurant where the two of us and our wives would want to go,” explains Wu-Bower. “We wanted a small place where we wanted to drink and eat and listen to great music.” That was the genesis of Maxwells Trading, opening this winter in an obscure corner of the North Side.

Despite having spent 20 years in Chicago, I hadn’t heard of the “Kinzie Industrial Corridor” before talking to Wu-Bower, but it turns out to be a small corner of the West Loop that is light on restaurants, but just a stone’s throw from popular neighborhoods like Fulton Market and West Town. Wu-Bower was inspired by his love of the warehouse districts of many big cities and calls this spot (at 1516 W. Carroll Ave.) “the best combination of opportunity and grit.” The building itself used to be office space, and also houses The Roof Crop, a rooftop garden that will be expanded and turned into a key source for the new restaurant. “I’ve been playing the farm to table game for a long time,” says Wu-Bower. “I like what we’re doing here because it takes that process one step further, to make it truly urban farming. There are roots over our heads.”

Wu-Bower hesitates to affix a label to the restaurant’s cuisine, and notes that in the past, he’s always had to cook within a label or a theme, be it Italian, Californian, or something else. While this restaurant has some Mediterranean footings, it also has Asian influences that draw from Wu-Bower’s own family. His mother, who is Chinese, traveled throughout Asia and brought influences home to his childhood dinner table, and his father’s Louisiana roots added a Southern twist.

A rendering of the dining room entrance at Maxwells Trading
Rendering: Sphera Studios

This mishmash of influences leads Wu-Bower to some interesting and unique dishes. An opening day dish will be called a fazzoletti and is a combination of homemade pappardelle pasta with a Chinese-style braised lamb shoulder, cooked in soy, cinnamon, allspice, sherry, and then finished with butter, Parmesan cheese, and housemade chile crisp. “This dish is so soul-warming,” says Wu-Bower. He’s also developed a bread program that combines naan with scallion pancakes, to be offered with a variety of dips, including hot honey from the rooftop with whipped ricotta. A Thai-inspired fluke tartare will combine lemongrass, peanut, chile, lime, and toasted coconut. “It’s spicy and sweet and savory. When people eat it, they say they haven’t tasted anything quite like it,” says Wu-Bower.

Wu-Bower visibly lit up when we started discussing the wine program at Maxwells Trading. The restaurant doesn’t have a sommelier, and he wrote the wine list himself. “The wine list is a balance between the esoteric and funky stuff that is popular right now and the classics,” says Wu-Bower. “I want someone to come in who doesn’t know a lot about wine to be able to order off it.” Obviously, Wu-Bower plans to spend plenty of time in the new kitchen, but he really wants to be at the tables talking wine with the customers. “I am very excited to go on that journey with a customer,” he says. “That’s the stuff that excites me the most.”

Maxwells Trading will open this winter (no opening date is fixed yet) for dinner on Tuesday through Saturday.