In 2009 it seems restaurateurs can’t go wrong with pizza, burgers, or beer. Or you can hedge your bets and try all three, as at The Lucky Monk (105 Hollywood Blvd., South Barrington; 847-898-0500), an upcoming 240-seat brewery from Jonathan Fox (La Madia) and Matt McMillin (formerly chef-partner at Big Bowl). Their pizzas will be unapologetic New York–style; the prime burgers fresh-ground and griddled; the beer hand-crafted and brewed in house. (It’s in the old Brass Restaurant & Brewery space.) “We wanted a modern expression of traditional monastery brewing in Belgium,” says Fox. “But we plan to honor the tradition—and serve food that really works well with beer.” (This apparently also includes hand-cut fries and homemade desserts such as double-dipped brownies.) ETA: first week of December.
“It’s not fair that people are seated first-come, first-serve. It should be based on who’s hungriest.” –Julia Louis-Dreyfus (b. 1961), American actress, as Elaine Benes, on the problem with restaurants
Slightly Less Small Bar
In early December, SmallBar plans to open a 130-seat location (larger than its Logan Square and Wicker Park outposts) at 1415 West Fullerton Avenue (773-525-2727). Expect the same craft burgers and craft beers—and more of both (some new specialty burgers, 180 beers including 25 on draft), plus pizza, weekend brunch, and personal 32-inch screens in oversized booths for eight to ten guests. “We’ve got a slightly bigger kitchen here so we refined the menu,” says Phil McFarland, a partner. “But we still do things like poutine, which we make on a bed of hand-cut fries with Cedar Grove dairy curds and smothered in sausage gravy. We have fun with the traditional Canadian preparation.”
Papa, Don’t Reach
Despite the ongoing bureaucratic mess that is Block 37, the folks at Beard Papa’s are moving forward with their outpost of the cream-puff chain as if all systems were go. “I have no reason to think they are not going to open,” says Akira Okura, a BP senior manager. “We are under construction. It might take two more weeks and then we need to go through the inspections.” For the uninitiated, Beard Papa’s two-layered pastries encompass natural vanilla bean cream from Madagascar and are made fresh every hour ($2). Based on the one Ruby had in New York last winter, they are also unbelievably good.
One of our trusted spies has nothing but raves for the duck at the huge new location of Sun Wah Bar-B-Que (5039 N. Broadway; 773-769-1254), half a block north of Argyle Street. “They carve the lacquered-skinned duck at your table and serve it with hot steamed buns, a big bowl of duck soup, duck fried rice, hoisin sauce, scallions, and julienned carrots,” she says. “All that for $32, enough for four people, and it was better than any duck I have ever had in Beijing. The service was a little disjointed, but the duck was so amazing you didn’t care.”
In July, Blue Line Grill & Bakery morphed into Shokran (4027 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-427-9130), a tiny Moroccan BYO bursting with tagine, couscous, homemade harissa, roasted eggplant, and baklava. Khalid Kamal, the owner, worked with a butcher in Morocco for a week to learn how to make an authentic merguez (a spicy sausage popular in northern Africa); his version is 40 percent lamb and 60 percent beef in a lamb casing with a mix of spices. “I was never satisfied with Moroccan restaurants,” says Kamal. “That’s why I made this restaurant—to have real good Moroccan home cooking.”
She Said It
“A big waffle cone is $3.29. Sprinkles are an extra charge. I think 71 cents. But you get a lot of sprinkles for 71 cents.” –Kendra Cossey, a cashier at Wicker Park’s Veggie Bite (1300 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-772-2483), which now houses a non-dairy vegan ice-cream operation called Lick
Kyu Sushi (939 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-772-5985), a 25-seat BYO, opened September 9th in Ukrainian Village with 12 specialty maki options. Example: the BLT ($8), which is crispy bacon over lettuce and tomato in a roll drizzled with masago mayo and sweet soy. “It’s really light,” says Jake Cee, the owner, and we can’t tell if he’s serious or not. More curious is the fact that Cee’s chef chooses to remain anonymous.
Things to Do
- Eat cheaply at Bistrot Margot (1437 N. Wells St.; 312–587-3660), which has a different $10 petit plat du jour every night. (Tuesday is beef Wellington; Wednesday is cassoulet; Friday bouillabaisse, et cetera.)
- Enjoy the surreal moment of the week and watch Bill Kurtis emcee a wing-eating contest at Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap (41 E. Superior St.; 312-266-0400) on November 5th at 6 p.m. Competitors will eat insanely hot Bhut Jolokia wings; $2 Miller Lite drafts and firefighters will be on hand. The contest is a fundraiser for the Chicago Fire Department’s Fill the Boot/Wives and Orphans fund.
- Buy a copy of Jean Iversen’s third edition of BYOB Chicago, a handy guide book that lists more than 300 BYO restaurants.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Hearty (3819 N. Broadway; 773-244-9866), the comfort-food spot from Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith, aka the Hearty Boys, opens November 4th. . . . Just in case you forgot—how could you?—Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773-235-4039), Paul Kahan’s Wicker Park bar and takeout taquería, opens November 9th. . . . Cordis Brothers Supper Club (1625 W. Irving Park Rd.), an all-American concept that opened in May 2007, has closed. . . . Two Chicago legends, Don Roth’s Blackhawk and Nick’s Fishmarket, announced closings this past week. Nick’s in Rosemont remains open; click here for more on Blackhawk, which will push on until the end of the year. . . . Raise a tequila of congratulations to Priscila Satkoff of ¡Salpicon!, who was recently chosen by Larousse Gastronomique as one of the world’s “Top Mexican Chefs.”