Mitchell Dulin ambled through his new Wilmette restaurant, The Avenue, still under construction and coated in a layer of dust, and saw things not yet in existence.
There was the walnut bar with the black tufting, the 7-foot-tall Tuscan wine press, the pizza oven situated just so one might glimpse a fresh pie from the bar and place an order.
“I don’t sleep a lot,” Dulin admitted.
That’s not surprising given the industry occurring behind covered windows on Wilmette Avenue, where The Avenue, and a new gastropub called Nick’s are both slated to open by Memorial Day Weekend.
While differing in style and menu, the owners of both restaurants hope to add more options to a growing mix of locally owned restaurants in what appears to be a burgeoning food scene on Chicago’s North Shore.
Meanwhile, village officials say the new additions to downtown are validation of the Village Center Master Plan, and proof of strong community investment in Wilmette. Both new restaurants have local investors.
“What I’m really excited about is we have local people who believe enough in this community to invest in it,” said Village President Chris Canning.
Nine Wilmette families came together to invest in Nick’s, said Jennifer Marino, one of the owners of the gastropub taking the place of the closed C.J. Arthur’s, near the corner of Wilmette and Central Avenues.
“We want this to be a place the entire community is excited about, a gathering spot for people to be with their families and friends,” Marino said.
Another of Nick’s owners, Tim Lenon, will also manage the restaurant. Lenon also owns and manages Fuel, a farm-to-the-table eatery focusing on fresh ingredients, situated on Washington Court. The menu at Nick’s will be fashioned in that same spirit.
“We thought Wilmette was missing some diversity in the dining options and thought, what if there was a really good gastropub?” Marino said.
The menu, still being developed, will include high-quality pub food offerings such as burgers, truffle oil french fries, salads, mussels and flatbreads, Marino said. As at Fuel, Nick’s will use local ingredients, such as bread from Heavenly Hearth in Wilmette, and meat from Wisconsin.
The vibe may be different for those accustomed to C.J. Arthur’s. The building has been gutted and is being remodeled, Marino said. Gone is most of the wood paneling on the walls, she said.
“We found a lot of great brick underneath,” Marino said.
There will be a full bar to accompany the restaurant with a maximum seating capacity of about 90, she said. The hope is to provide a family friendly atmosphere that’s nice enough to also attract women on a “girls night out” and comfortable enough to bring in guys to watch a game at the bar, she said.
Nick’s won’t be a music venue like the old C.J. Arthur’s, Marino said, but there may be opportunities to partner with the Rock House down the street to bring in local acts.
Fuel’s Chef Derek Dwyer will be taking over the kitchen at Nick’s, Lenon said. He’ll be replaced at Fuel by a staff member yet to be determined.
Down the street at The Avenue, Dulin is taking a different approach. For starters, there will be no chef.
“I hire and train people to cook my food. It’s a team effort,” said Dulin, an experienced restaurateur who was most recently the original owner of the Central Street Café in Evanston. “I don’t like egos.”
The menu will feature Italian, French and American food with such entrees as asiago gnocchi in a truffle Parmesan sauce, wild shrimp in pesto, and a foot-long skirt steak with Yukon gold potatoes to go along with sandwiches and pizzas, Dulin said. The average entree will be in the $10-$15 range.
“I’d rather be busy and charge less per customer,” Dulin said.
The Avenue will have multiple concepts working under one roof. There will be a full bar, with a focus on craft beer and quality, inexpensive wines, that’s deep enough to eat at, he said. There will also be a lounge area, a family dining section, a more upscale dining room and a private room in the back that can be rented out.
There’s even a possibility for a Munich-style beer garden in the parking lot out back, Dulin said, but that likely won’t be in place until next year.
The footprint of The Avenue, about 9,000 square feet including all kitchen and utility space, dwarves that of Nick’s, which is about 2,500 square feet. And though both are restaurants with bars, the styles and menus appear to provide two distinct options among others in downtown Wilmette.
Like Nick’s, The Avenue has local investors. Dulin is running the show but Wilmette residents, Jim Blomberg and Fritz Schaupp, are also co-owners.
That local connection is what has Village President Canning most enthused about the two new restaurants coming to town, pointing to the Gilson’s, Depot Nuevo and the Big Black Dog Tavern & Grill as other examples. In recent years, Wilmette has tried to attract more restaurants and bars to its village center, he said.
It’s even clearly stated in the Village Center Master Plan: “Specialty food stores, restaurants, and other types of retail could serve to expand the trade area, drawing more patrons into the Village Center.”
More restaurants bring more competition, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Lenon, who will manage Nick’s. More businesses will add to the core density of the village, he said.
“There was a lack of a sense of community in Wilmette,” he said. “We’re hoping to bring new life to downtown.”
March 28, 2013 | By Gregory Trotter, Chicago Tribune reporter – firstname.lastname@example.org
Original article at: chicagotribune.com