After leaving Charlie Trotter’s last October to strike out on his own, Matthias Merges lays the first brick in his own business this November with a yakitori-inspired restaurant in Logan Square called Yusho (2853 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-904-8558). Yusho, which Merges says is a verb heavily abbreviating “urging one to drink more good wine during a banquet,” will have a kushiyaki gas grill, a binchotan-burning yakitori grill, and a gas char grill along with an open kitchen, all producing menu items such as grilled amazake-marinated chicken wings with umeboshi, chicken gizzards with shiso kimchi, tripe and daikon hot pot, uni with turnip ice and persimmon, and an abalone-poppy rice cracker. Yusho’s concept was born during a visit Merges and his wife made to Etxebarri, the grilling-centric restaurant in Spain’s Basque country. Merges is translating Etxebarri’s vibe with a Japanese tone. “I love to create food with clean flavor and product focused,” he says. “That’s the Japanese influence that I picked up.” Yusho will have about 85 seats, including four at a kitchen table where diners can eat a multicourse menu for about $10 a course, with a minimum of five courses. Punches with ingredients such as yuzu and Japanese whiskey will also be featured on the menu. Can’t wait to see what happens when Matthias merges into high gear.
“A bum came up to me saying, ‘I haven’t eaten in two days!’ I said, ‘You should force yourself!’ ” —Henry “Henny” Youngman (1906–1998), British-born American comedian and violinist
Geno Bahena, the chef/entrepreneur behind Chilpancingo, Ixcapuzalco, and several more-pronounceable restaurants, now plans to open a new spot in Logan Square by the end of the month. Mitad del Mundo (2833 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-235-3800), meaning “half the world,” was so named, Bahena says, “because it’s like a place where everybody gets together—like a kiosk that is actually on the equator where the half of the world is.” The menu highlights slow-roasted meats from the Mayan Peninsula and featured moles that will change monthly, as well as burgers paired with moles: beef and turkey with red, and veggie with white. The bar seats 12, the restaurant 65, and a rooftop patio is planned for next summer. By then Bahena probably will have opened six more restaurants.
Seven Questions for Angela Hepler-Lee
With her husband, Chris Lee, Hepler-Lee owned the recently closed Veerasway and owns Grange Hall Farm Burger (844 W. Randolph St.; 312-491-0844), Veerasway’s upcoming successor in the space.
Dish: What happened to Veerasway?
Angela Hepler-Lee: Veerasway was a very difficult business to keep busy. It was a great restaurant in its own sake. You can be a great restaurant, but if you aren’t booked all week, you can never build the momentum. I can’t change people’s eating habits, much as I knew that going into it. [People say,] “Eh. It’s spicy. It smells funny. I’m not really into that mashed food.”
D: How did you make the leap from Indian food to farm-to-table burgers?
AH-L: My parents were both born and raised on working farms in Michigan. My grandparents had 500 acres where they grow corn, soybeans, and wheat. They ate everything off their farm—eggs, pigs, cattle. I bought a 27-acre farm with a blueberry orchard in Michigan seven years ago. Everything in my life has always been farm to table.
D: So the rest of the world caught up with you?
AH-L: It’s weird. The world caught up because the world is moving backward. People have to find a way to make ends meet. [Also,] they are no longer tolerating hamburger [meat] that has hormones in it. Or cucumbers and tomatoes with herbicides and pesticides. Naturally, they are moving back to farm-raised food.
D: Where will you get your beef?
AH-L: We’ll mostly be using Tallgrass beef from Kansas, but we’ll also work with a handful of small farms in Michigan, like Middlebrook Farms in Three Oaks. Grass-fed. Grass-fed beef is more than double the price of corn-fed. The reason for that is because it takes longer to feed a cow on grass than it does on corn.
D: What nonbeef options will there be?
AH-L: A hormone- and antibiotic-free turkey burger. We grind turkey thigh meat with sage and onions. I add olive oil. You have to have it. Turkey meat gets too dry. A vegetable and legume burger. Jason Slimak, my chef at De Cero is working on the perfect vegetable-legume burger.
D: What else is on the menu?
AH-L: Three things: burgers, pies, and homemade ice cream. Every month will feature a pie. October, when we plan on opening, our first pie is Jollay Orchard apple pie. Jollay Orchard is an apple farm down the road from my farm in Michigan. November is pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream. December is pecan pie.
D: And the ice cream?
AH-L: We’re making our own ice cream at the restaurant and calling it Izzy’s Ice Creamery, after our ten-year-old daughter, Izzy. We’ll have three flavors to start: burnt sugar, sweet corn, and chocolate fig. We also will have vanilla and chocolate just because you have to have vanilla and chocolate. We will buy those flavors from Homer’s because we have to have large quantities for the pies. There is no pie that can be eaten without vanilla ice cream.
Cheese Curb, or Swiss Bank
City ordinances require food trucks to have a home base. The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck preps at Wicker Park’s The Southern, but on Fridays and Saturdays, the truck gets short shrift because the restaurant is so busy. To maximize the capacity of those two operations, a third is scheduled to open around the end of the month. The Southern Mac & Cheese Store (60 E. Lake St.; no phone yet) will become the truck’s headquarters and also sell the truck’s mac and cheeses, some salads, a stuffed grilled pimiento-and-cheese sandwich, and specialty sodas. “We decided we may as well turn it into a storefront and have foot traffic and not just be relegated to the truck,” says Cary Taylor, the chef behind all three Southerns. If the old trend was chasing down trucks on Twitter, the new trend is walking in off the street.
Bite Sound Bites
The new chef at Bite Cafe (1039 N. Western Ave.; 773-395-2483) is Brendan Neville, most recently at The Black Sheep. Bite’s owner, Bruce Finkelman, told us about two dishes Neville makes.
• “[At a tasting,] he did a Sunday pork ragù with braciola. It’s one of my favorite things in life, braciola. There have never been very many people who did it correctly. We are now going to do a whole Sunday dinner [around it].”
• “He does Parisian gnocchi. Do you know what that is? I didn’t either. It’s made out of pâte à choux [a.k.a. the dough in profiteroles]. It was awesome.”
Jones for Acadia
The hunger for the new South Loop restaurant from the chef Ryan McCaskey (Tuttaposto, Vivere, Rushmore, Tizi Melloul, Courtright’s) growls a little stronger as he teases future diners with new details. For one, the name: Acadia (1639 S. Wabash Ave.; no phone yet). “I wanted to find a name that tied into my ties to Maine,” McCaskey says. “I spent summers growing up in Maine and have a lot of dear, close friends there still. It’s like my second home. A lot of the seafood product that I’m getting is going to be from the area.” For another, McCaskey’s sous-chef: Chris Walker (Pops for Champagne, Bistro Bordeaux). Acadia is scheduled to open in December. By then, we’ll be ready for the Maine course.
- The shrimp bruschetta from GT Fish & Oyster is worth the manual labor it requires.
- Mussels at Quay prove everything is better with a little chorizo.
- Pollack has a spicy, saucy night at Next.
- Buffalo ducks have surprisingly tasty wings, as Pollack learned at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar.
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On the Blog
Things to Do
1. Cling to your illusions of endless summer at Ina’s (1235 W. Randolph St.; 312-226-8227), where September 23 marks the restaurant’s final lobster night of the year. The $45 prix fixe feast includes a one-and-a-half-pound steamed Maine lobster, coleslaw, and sides. Reservations are required and will be accepted until September 21.
2. Rub elbows with artisan vendors, take in cooking demos, and check out performances by the acoustic band The Spares or, if you’re so inclined, the kiddo favorite Wiggleworms, all while sipping gratuit Champagne at the Meet the Market open house, held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Chicago French Market (131 N. Clinton St.; 312-575-0306).
3. Belly up to the bar at McCormick & Schmick’s (41 E. Chestnut St., 312-397-9500; 1 E. Wacker Dr., 312-923-7226) for food specials that seem too cheap to be true. A discount menu is available weekdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. (as well as various late-night and weekend hours), proffering deals like $1.95 tacos, $2.95 half-pound cheeseburgers, and $3.95 duck pot stickers to customers in the bar area.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Recently reopened South Looper Gioco announced Gaetano Ascione as its new executive chef. The Naples-born Ascione will unveil a new menu in early fall. . . .Mike Noll earned a promotion from chef de cuisine to executive chef at Elate. . . . The Bluebird got in on the chef-shifting act as well, announcing Jack Stankovic (The Black Sheep) now dons the top toque, as reported by Grub Street. . . . M Burger continues its Loop takeover today with the opening of a Thompson Center (100 W. Randolph St.; 312-578-1478) shop. We’re particularly primed for the latest location because it pours half-price shakes every weekday from 2 to 5 p.m. . . . Tony Hu expanded his fleet of Chinatown restaurants with the opening of Lao Hunan. . . . Black Cow Kitchen & Bar is up and running in Mount Prospect, serving a potpourri of American food and homemade desserts. . . . Our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of Donatella Majore, the chef/owner of Donatella Mediterranean Bistro, who died this week from injuries sustained when she was hit by a van while riding her scooter. Her ardent fans will miss her oozy lasagna and her feisty personality. Condoglianze.