Pret A Rumble
Coming in mid- to late August for Loop lunchers is Pret A Manger (211 W. Adams St.; no phone yet), the first Chicago outpost of the London-based sandwich chain that has more than 200 locations in the United Kingdom. (The name means “ready to eat” in French.) Speed is paramount. Customers grab a sandwich, baguette, or wrap out of the refrigerator, and, if the restaurant meets its goal, people are in and out in 90 seconds. The chain also takes pride in using high-quality ingredients, such as Niman Ranch ham. And nothing languishes overnight—the restaurant donates leftovers to charity at the end of every day. “We’re not going to compete with Chicago brands like pizzas and hot dogs,” says Sebastian Wright, a Pret A Manger spokesman. Hey, Seb, Potbelly is a Chicago brand, too.
“Had [I] but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.” –Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Do They Serve Hanger Steak?
Sonny Tran and April Wong own a dry-cleaning business in Edgebrook. Every year, to show appreciation for their customers, they throw a Chinese New Year party with loads of food. “People taste our cooking, and they say, ‘You guys are in the wrong business. You should open a restaurant instead,’” Tran says. The opportunity came with the relocation of the seafood restaurant Pier 5736 (which, to update our Dot Dot Dot item from January, has a mid-August opening planned in Edgewater, under the new name Kingfisher). Tran and Wong leased the Pier 5736 space—from a customer at the dry cleaner—for Saigon Grill (5736 N. Elston Ave.; no phone yet), a Chinese-Vietnamese counter-service spot scheduled to open in mid-July. Tran boasts about their signature egg rolls: Because Tran and Wong cook the filling before rolling, the egg rolls need only a short dip in the oil, making them less greasy. Great, we’ll try one. No extra starch, please.
The Customer Is Always Right
Yolanda Montes-Estrada, the chef/owner at the new Mexican storefront Ojo De Agua (2235 N. Western Ave.; 773-235-8807), makes from-scratch flan, pan de tres leches, dessert of the day (coconut cake is a recent example), and tortillas. She specializes in tortas, too, which come with a choice of six different meats. But apparently this isn’t enough for some people, who request things like enchiladas, which aren’t on the menu. “It’s really hard for her to say no. So she says yes,” says Cecilia Monroy, a waitress. Giving the customers what they want—Marshall Field’s name may be gone from Chicago, but his spirit lives on.
He Said It
“Oh, God, no. My wife will kill me. Are you kidding? I’ve had it since 1961. I wouldn’t be able to go home.” –John Arto, the owner of Johnnie’s Beef (7500 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park; 708-452-6000), in response to a rumor that Johnnie’s was closing.
Two New Openings
• One. Six One (1251 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-1611), tapas-style global cuisine, on June 22nd
• The Portage (3938 N. Central Ave.; 773-853-0779), American comfort food, on June 16th
On the Blog
Things to Do
1. Reserve for the Slow Food/Goose Island Brewmaster’s dinner at Uncommon Ground (1401 W. Devon Ave.; 773-465-9801) on June 21st, for $75. An appetizer reception in the certified-organic rooftop garden—paired with Demolition—starts at 6:30 p.m., followed by four courses—paired with Sofie, Fleur, Matilda, and Père Jacques—at 7 p.m. (The menu touts its local ingredients, so ignore the Prince Edward Island mussels and wild Alaskan salmon.)
3. Eat big at Taco Fuego (1648 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-935-9472), if you’re a competitive eater. Only one person so far has finished the Monster Burrito, a 14-by-6-by-7-inch, six-pound behemoth ($15), since the place opened April 26th. “This guy [who finished it] is about 350 pounds, maybe six-eight or six-nine,” says Bryan Balbuena, the son of the owner. If you’re not a competitive eater, order something else.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The first predicted opening date we heard for Masada (2206 N. California Ave.; no phone yet) was spring 2008, but the small-plates Middle Eastern place from the owners of Sultan’s Market is still a year away. . . . “The menu is pretty similar [to many other Thai restaurants in the city], but the tastes are more like authentic Thai than American Thai,” says Chantana Hilsen, a partner in Rice Bistro (2964 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-880-9522), along with her husband and her brother, Thornthan Srikalayanavat, who is also the chef. Hilsen recommends the pad Thai. . . . A third Chicago-area location of the Dallas-based gelateria Paciugo is scheduled to open over the July 4th weekend at 2324 West Giddings Street in Lincoln Square. . . . The Lake View location of Orange morphed, seemingly overnight, into a restaurant called Hang Over Easy (3231 N. Clark St.; 312-549-4400), with the same décor and phone number. Its menu misspells “chocolate” two different ways in the description of one dish, and it’s BYO ($3 corkage), despite closing at 2:30 p.m. . . . Balsan and Ria, the two restaurants in the Elysian (11 E. Walton St.; 312-646-1329), have hired Stephanie Prida as executive pastry chef. She most recently worked at Blackbird, where she scored a 2010 Jean Banchet award for rising pastry chef.