The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. When all Illinois bars and restaurants were ordered to close as of March 16, many turned to a takeout model but still had to lay off thousands of employees. While some restaurants were able to withstand the blow, others, such as longtime local favorite La Buona Vita, were forced to close permanently.
As the mandates ease, many restaurants closed for dine-in service have been able to reopen, while some brave restaurateurs have opted to make this the year they open a new concept. Here are the most exciting openings and reopenings of 2021 so far.
Husband and wife team Jenner Tomaska and Katrina Bravo are excited to open their new concept in Lincoln Park in March 2021. The restaurant will be around 3,800 square feet with an outdoor patio. Though the couple is staying mum on what exactly the menu will look like, they do plan to have a casual bar area to offset the more formal dining area. In addition to serving amazing food, Esme will also be an open space for youth and arts groups as well as community members who want to gather for philanthropic meetings.
A long-vacant space in Logan Square will be the new home of Chef Christopher Thompson and hospitality veteran Steve Lewis’ new market and restaurant, Lardon. Lardon, located at 2200 N. California Ave., will feature sandwiches along with artisanal cheese and cured meats, coffee, and a gourmet retail market. The duo intends to create an “all-day salumeria” where they cure salumi and meats in an in-house curing cave. The team does not have a firm opening date yet but hopes to welcome guests in early 2021 and expand to adjacent spaces later in the year.
Renowned chef Art Smith, who just happened to be Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, is slated to open a new restaurant called Reunion on Navy Pier in the spring of 2021. The restaurant will take the place of Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company, whose lease expired in late 2020. Chef Smith is famous for his southern cooking and has also hinted he intends to incorporate CBD into his menu. This high-volume restaurant near the pier’s entrance will hopefully help attract locals as well as tourists to increase the popularity of the area once it opens back up.
Taking the place of Bar Biscay, a victim of the pandemic located at 1450 W. Chicago Ave. in Wicker Park, Three House is being opened by chef Tyler Nickson in March. Tyler’s family owns the popular West Loop spot Wishbone, so he’s familiar with the Chicago dining scene. He is being joined by Tyler LeBlanc, who was previously at the Bucktown eatery Schwa, as well as the owners of trendy boutiques Round Two and Half Evil. Three House will focus on being a quick breakfast and lunch cafe with counter service. Menu options will include Parisian baguette sandwiches, smash burgers, café con leche French toast, and a selection of juices, coffees, and smoothies. Though Three House may add special dinner selections later in the year, their focus is on keeping their staff and customers safe, healthy, and filled with plenty of delicious food.
Sushi Suite 202
Those who have missed the unique speakeasy-style omakase restaurant Sushi Suite 202 will be happy to know the restaurant has reopened as of January 29th. The eatery, which features a 17-course, 60-minute sushi “extravaganza,” will open safely by seating parties of two and separating them with a partition. To encourage diners to return, Sushi Suite 202 is offering a free round of sake with every reservation. The restaurant is located in the Hotel Lincoln, and diners have raved about the intimate, cool atmosphere. The extravaganza includes selections from Chef Kin Wangchuk made from ikura (salmon roe), o-toro (fatty tuna), Hamachi (yellowtail), and unagi (BBQ eel.)
Big League Burgers
After a year of renovations, the Chicago Cubs-themed burger joint Big League Burgers has finally reopened. This destination for sports fans is famous for its Big League Challenge — an eating challenge consisting of four 8-ounce patties, two fried eggs, eight strips of bacon, four buns, a pound of fries, a shake, and a drink. Less ambitious eaters can check out the cheeseburger rolls, Zeus burger, or Maxwell Street Polish dog. Big League Burgers is now open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday.
Pilsen Yards, the hip Latin American street food spot in the former Monnie Burke’s space, just opened their patio with heated floors and ceilings and is ready to serve food and cocktails to hungry and thirsty Chicago residents. Diners can munch on shrimp ceviche, fish tacos, and chipotle hummus while enjoying a house margarita, Rusty Alibi (mezcal, red bitter blend, becherovka, bitters, orange peel), or a selection of beers. Once indoor bar service is allowed, owner Paul Abu-Taleb plans to open The Alderman, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar inside the restaurant serving original cocktails with a classic American twist.
The French-Canadian new restaurant Dear Margaret was inspired by the food chef Ryan Brousseau’s grandmother cooked for him when he was growing up in Ontario. Using Midwestern ingredients to cook French-Canadian cuisine, the restaurant aims to create elevated and honest cuisine rooted in a classic technique. Menu options include roasted beet salad, pan-roasted Scottish salmon, Tourtiere (Canadian meat pie with mushrooms, potato, herb, and pork filling), and butter tarts for dessert. When indoor seating resumes, the owners plan to open a 40-person indoor dining room. Dear Margaret is located at 2965 N. Lincoln Ave. and is currently open for pick-up and delivery.
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