When Wishbone opened its West Loop location in 1992, it introduced a cafeteria line during its busy lunch rush. But as businesses left the area and more residents moved in, interest in the lunch line waned while more diners opted for table service. But that's about to change.
Wishbone owner Joel Nickson will reintroduce the cafeteria-style dining on Feb. 22. "I've always had a soft spot for the cafeteria and people liked it. And I do feel cafeterias get a bad name," Nickson said. "But it can be fun and fast. And I'm excited about doing it again."
Wishbone's cafeteria service, which will take up the north portion of the restaurant by the bar, saving the rest for regular table service, will at first occur Tuesday through Thursday, but at dinner only, likely between 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nickson said he wants to work out the kinks and hopes to bring the cafeteria line back to lunch service a couple of weeks after launching.
The cafeteria menu will offer less than the regular menu, focusing more on soups, salads, sandwiches and Wishbone favorites like crawfish cakes; etouffee; blackened catfish or chicken; and black bean cakes with mango salsa. Nickson said they'll have more po' boys, sliced-to-order brisket sandwiches and daily specials, like meatloaf.
The portions will remain the same size, but will be served a la carte, so the prices will be cheaper. And, of course, the food will still be fresh and not sitting out under heat lamps. "The key to that line is keeping the quality so it's not this never-ending food that's sitting out on a steam table."
Nickson has also been scouting a location in Beverly on 95th Street in the neighborhood's branch of the Chicago Public Library. The expansion has stalled due to the banks not wanting to lend money in this economic climate, Nickson said. The old stone building was constructed around World War II and could feature a nice patio, he added. Unlike the other Wishbone locations, it would likely be a BYOB restaurant due to the area's laws that prevent restaurants from selling alcoholic drinks within certain boundaries.
"It's a great building and the community wants us to do it. It's changing a lot down there," Nickson said. "I found myself in a position where it's hard for me to put that deal together. I've been actively working on it, but keep hitting banking roadblocks. I wanted to and I haven't given up total hope, but it's in a coma now."