You know that restaurant that has Michelin Bib Gourmands and was featured in Bon Appetit as one of America’s Best New Restaurants in 2017? You might have heard of it: it’s called Giant (3209 W. Armitage Ave.).
Chef Jason Vincent, Chef Ben Lustbader, and Josh Perlman (beverage director) have decided to take on an exciting new venture. They are opening a “dressed up” dive bar that serves American-Chinese food. So if you are in love with Giant like the rest of Chicago is, you can try more of their culinary genius at their new restaurant, Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar (2165 N. Western Ave.), which is scheduled to open in Bucktown this summer.
Photos: Shanti Chu
Chef’s Special will be in the former Siboney Cuban Cuisine storefront across from Fresh Market in Bucktown. Since the space is a former restaurant, it already has the proper infrastructure, which makes it more affordable to build. While the owners love Logan Square, the rising rent prices makes it much more difficult to find something affordable.
The Food: American-Chinese
Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar will be a laid-back, dive bar serving American-Chinese comfort food. You can expect dishes like egg rolls, fried rice, and Lo-Mein in addition to more “experimental dishes” within the American-Chinese parameters.
“American-Chinese food is definitely its own concept—it’s not really rooted in anything besides the influence of mainland Chinese food,” Vincent said.
According to Vincent, there will also be vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options with plenty of tofu and vegetable-forward dishes such as Szechuan potatoes, long beans and bok choy.
The chefs grew up eating a lot of Chinese-American food and wanted to bring that sense of comfort to their new restaurant.
“A lot of the stuff that you see on the Americanized Chinese menus aren’t in China. It’s stuff we grew up on,” Vincent said. “We love Chinese food. When we do family meals here at Giant, we make a lot of Chinese food.”
Lustbader agrees with his partner and feels that it is “super thrilling to engage with all of these new recipes and techniques,” which will also be featured on their Chef’s Special menu.
In the past few years, the chefs have been perfecting their recipes and receiving feedback from their staff. Expect to see many innovative dishes that you typically don’t see at other American-Chinese restaurants in the suburbs.
“It [American-Chinese food] hits the spot, it’s so satisfying. I want to make this food and want to make it right in a respectful way,” Vincent said. “We’re not pretending to be better than anyone else in making this food. We hope to learn quite a bit from our teachers.”
The Cocktails: Balanced Tropical Flavors
There will also be a wide assortment of cocktails at this “dressed up” dive bar. According to Perlman, the cocktails are “trending more tropical in flavor profile” without them being overly sweet.
The menu will be broken up into shaken, stirred, and spritzed in order to please many palates. Chase Bracamontes, the General Manager, will be designing the cocktails and has been experimenting with a Lychee and Vanilla Martini, a Mango and Amaro cocktail, and many more.
While Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar will have tropical cocktails, it will still embody the laid-back dive bar vibes. In addition to the financial incentive of having a physical bar, the owners’ love for dive bars is what partially inspired them to open the new spot.
The Concept: “Dressed up” Dive Bar
“We feel like a dressed up dive bar is an accurate representation of how we see ourselves and others; we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Vincent said. “Bars are great places but lately, they’ve tended to veer towards high-mindedness where they put ‘interesting’ before ‘delicious.'”
The owners believe that the concept of a “dive bar” has broad appeal because everyone has a different interpretation of what it means. But at its core is comfort veering far away from the “disgusting dive bar” stereotype, which is why a “dressed up” dive bar concept is perfectly suited for this space.
“We want to serve the neighborhood and community [which] seems funner with a dive bar [concept],” said Lustbader.
Chef’s Special will embody the comfortable and welcoming vibe of Giant. While the food, beverages, and space will be different, the group put in detailed effort to have happy employees who in turn make the guests feel at home, Vincent said.
“We hope that any venture we take on will have a positive impact on the people who work and visit us,” he added.
As chefs and business owners, Vincent, Lustbader, and Perlman are inspired to foster a bubble of positivity as a juxtaposition to the chaos of the world right now. At Giant, the idea is for you to come in for a few hours where the tables are close together and immerse yourself in conversation, he said.
“We don’t give out wifi passwords—your phones will work but they will be slow and annoying. You can have a meal, a conversation, and have people be nice to you—it’s a mild form of prostitution,” said Vincent, which can’t be faked.
Perlman has been in hospitality since high school and is extremely inspired by the “human element” of business, which can be rewarding and challenging,” he said.
“As a business owner too, seeing how our employees’ lives benefit from this work and creating a culture and environment that people really enjoy being a part of is incredibly rewarding,” he said.
The Location: Logan Square, Bucktown, and Gentrification
In spite of the gentrification pricing people out of their homes and businesses, the owners want the community to know that their restaurants are open to everyone.
“Socioeconomic plight is a big reason why we keep our prices as low as we do—nothing on the menu is over $19. We want everyone to come in, be comfortable and feel safe, not just white people,” Vincent said.
He said it is important that the restaurants are priced accordingly for the general working public and not just young professionals.
Giant will always be first and foremost a neighborhood restaurant, according to Perlman, which also rings true for Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar. Their food prices will be more similar to American-Chinese restaurants, which is “very affordable,” while staying true to using local and organic meat and produce. The revenue from the cocktails will assist with the costs of opening and maintaining a restaurant.
Featured photo: Sweet and Sour Eggplant from Giant. Photo: Shanti Chu