The city may be reopening, but restaurants still find themselves in a catch-22. Spots eager to run on as many cylinders possible have opened their patio spaces and offered limited indoor service, capping groups at 10 people per reservation and spacing out tables.
But the sobering reality persists: COVID-19 cases are rising in the city. This week, citing a rise in cases, Lori Lightfoot dialed back some reopening guidelines. Effective Friday, the max group size has been limited to six, and bars cannot serve patrons indoors unless they also offer food. In response, some restaurateurs have jettisoned sit-down dining altogether, if they ever opened it back up to begin with. Even so, takeout options largely require customers to enter the establishment, however briefly.
Luckily, a new option has emerged for restaurants stuck in the middle: takeout windows. Some have even inspired chefs to branch out and try something new. Here are four windows to visit, in the words of the folks who man them.
Pastry chef Angelyne Canicosa:Kakigori — Japanese shaved ice — has always been part of our vision for Gaijin. We use a special machine from Japan to achieve its fluffy texture. We chose flavors that are bright and refreshing: Most are fruit-based, like cantaloupe-lime, and the snowcap, made of housemade condensed milk, adds just the right amount of richness to the dessert.
Most of the guests who order kakigori are dining in the restaurant or the patio, but we’re starting to attract more foot traffic. Passersby are curious about the colorful mounds of ice that come out of the window.
Beverage director Julius White: Once we returned for takeout and delivery service in May, we were thinking of additional ways to engage with customers. The walk-up window gave us an opportunity to highlight our kakigori program. The program that Angelyne created is unlike anything else I’ve seen in the area, so it was kind of a no-brainer to put that at the forefront.
The kaki-tails [spiked kakigori desserts] are so much fun — they come fully composed from the pastry team, and we serve them with mini bottles of spirits. You can walk up and order them for takeaway or consume them on site. The response to these drinks has been amazing: They were the top-selling cocktail in the restaurant this past week. I think it’s safe to say the kaki-tail is here to stay. This Saturday is Kakigori Day, and Gaijin is offering free samples from 12 to 2 p.m. 950 W. Lake St., West Town.
Owner Derrick Tung: We’d wanted to do a slice shop for the last year and a half and were looking for places, but nothing came up. When COVID happened, we shut down for a couple months for the safety of our team and the public. After reopening, we knew that if we weren’t going to let people in, we wanted to connect to the community in some fashion. Plus, if we opened the kitchen and just did takeout, then we wouldn’t have positions for our front of house staff.
So, we started devising a takeout window. We had a slice recipe we were working on, but when we decided to open, we didn’t have time to test it. We asked Paulie Gee’s in New York for their recipe, and they were happy to share it with us.
I’m pretty happy with it. Everyone sees pizza in the window and wants the freshest slices, but we also reheat slices in a little Breville oven for 45 seconds. That reheat gives you a crispy bottom, which I always prefer to slices fresh out of the oven.
We’re also doing a shokupan bread, a Japanese brioche that’s super soft. My staff started taking the dough and rolling chocolate or matcha into it for babka. We also offer stuff that’s been hard for people to get their hands on, like bread flour, yeast, and gluten-free flour. We’re also doing DIY pizza kits, and on Sunday, we’re starting Sunday suppers, with three courses for $35. It’ll give the staff a chance to play around like we’ve done in the past. The goal is to help us break even and keep all staff employed. 2451 N. Milwaukee Ave., Logan Square.
Co-owner/chef Yoshi Yamada: We felt like the safest route for our staff, ourselves, and our customers was to do something with less contact than an indoor space. We incorporated a takeout window when we built the space, and all of a sudden, it’s become essential. There are financial realities — margins in restaurants are pretty slim to begin with, and it’s difficult to create a functional business model if you’re only able to fill 25 to 50 percent of seats. We also wanted to think about different ways of doing things, including partnering with people we’ve worked with before.
In the mornings, we have Takeaway Bagel — bagels with schmears and sandwiches. It’s masterminded by Kelly Helgesen, a former pastry chef at Lula Café and our food runner at Superkhana. We are also making cold chai, which is available in dairy and nondairy versions, as well as cold coffee with chicory, which is a huge part of coffee culture in Southern India. We’re also making mango lassi. Then, our former general manager/beverage director, Colleen Malone, is offering Be Cordials, seasonal cordials in flavors like strawberry rhubarb ginger, tomato curry leaf lime, and green garden. You can pour them into fizzy water; she’s also bottling cocktails using them.
We’re making our Parle G ice cream sandwiches and also selling Indian food that is designed to be refrigerated or frozen. To start, we’re focusing on classic Indian restaurant cuisine, which is largely developed from North Indian cooking. We’re doing dishes like butter chicken, aloo matar, and yellow dal. We’re also going to start doing hot food in the evenings and eventually do some lunch sandwiches and classic street food snacks out the window. 3059 W. Diversey Ave., Logan Square.
Co-founder Ed Marszewski: We’d been working on Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream for a year, prior to the pandemic. We partnered with Eat Free Pizza on the pizza side and Dana Cree of Pretty Cool Ice Cream for the ice cream side, and [Kimski chef] Won Kim has perfected his fried chicken. We started doing pop-ups until we got licenses, but now that we have those, we’re open.
Because of the reality of today’s dining climate, we’re open three days a week: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. We’ll probably open an extra day once we figure out what we’re doing. We have a walk-up window to order from; that’s open 5 to 9 p.m. You can preorder full pans of pizza online. You can take the food to go, or eat on our patio.
Someday, you’ll be able to dine inside or bring it to Maria’s. We all want some happiness in our lives right now, and food provides joy. 964 W. 31st St., Bridgeport.