Mindy Segal has had quite a week. First, a beautifully written article came out showcasing how Segal overcame fears and insecurities and got her creative juices flowing once again. Then, Monday night, she finally—after six nominations—was named Outstanding Pastry Chef at the James Beard Foundation Awards. Now, this Thursday at lunch, Segal will reveal the next iteration of her seven-and-a-half-year-old Bucktown restaurant. And it's not just the physical space that's changing. The whole philosophy behind it is as well.
This week, Segal will transform the HotChocolate she's grown into a successful business into her new concept: Mindy's Hot Chocolate Craft Food & Drink. The name change comes with a new direction where Segal says she's "moving away from the artistry of cooking toward the craft of cooking." To fully understand, one has to get inside Segal's head, which isn't always easy. But we're going to help you try simply through words since the space wasn't photo ready at press time.
Not that the restaurant before was ever really feminine with its leather banquettes, dark wood bar and autumnal color scheme, but Segal is taking it even further to the masculine, with a more industrial non-rustic feeling. The space, long before it was a hot Bucktown restaurant, was home to an industrial metal stamping company and Segal is returning the room to its roots.
As you walk in the front door, you'll be greeted by host who stands just in front of a walkup coffee station with a lever press espresso machine, a French press and single press brewer. There will, of course, be a drink ledge where you can stand and have a coffee in the morning.
Gone is the lounge up front, replaced by a number of wooden-topped tables with metal edges and iron cast bases set atop metal tiles. The entire facade is different as well: It's now more or less floor-to-ceiling NanaWall glass doors that open up and flood the restaurant with natural light. On the nearby light gray brick wall, Segal is hanging amber hydroponic lights for the living herb garden that will live there.
To continue the flow of light toward the back, Segal had three new skylights installed in the ceiling. The light will help illuminate the taxidermied cow heads on the wall by artist Jessica Joslin, whose husband, Jared Joslin, also is contributing paintings.
Adjacent to the coffee bar, where there will also hang a sign listing all the available beverages, Segal will set up a small retail space with a vintage baker's rack and a metal work case that will hold packages of her hot chocolate blends in cryovac-sealed bags. She'll also sell T-shirts and packages of marshmallows in a range of flavors like caramel and chocolate, coffee and malted.
The racks will hold vintage candy jars where the host will grab different types of sandwich cookies (nutter butter, Linnzer, oreo, caramel, graham cracker—Segal is even making a gluten-free cookie) to take to the coffee bar where they'll be assembled into petite ice cream sandwiches by the barista with flavors including vanilla, pistachio, strawberry and pecan praline. She's also creating a black cow in a jar that'll be made with root beer ice cream. You'll be able to get a hot chocolate latte and drinks with flavored frothed milk like cinnamon and cocoa nib.
It won't, however, be all sweets as Segal's new menu, broken up into Jars, Plates, Bowls, Salads and Sandwiches, will have plenty of savories: deviled duck egg salad with Fritzels onion bread boule; Green Acres spring onion dip with cottage fries and grilled asparagus; shrimp and grits; PEI mussels in a PBR cream broth with Gunthorp Farms bacon lardons, jalapeños and red onion; a Shrimp Louis salad; New England style crab cake sandwich on house buttered bun; and, of course, a burger featuring a Heartland patty, Carr Valley four-year cheddar and cottage fries.
The bar won't look terribly different, but was lengthened and now holds 16 bar stools and will add four beer taps that, to start, will showcase hard-to-find Three Floyds beers like Samurai Gazebo and Rabid Rabbit. The back, toward the kitchen, will see a 12-top chef's table. Across the way, the bathrooms, now with reclaimed old doors from a home in Lakeview, will feature murals of Adam and Eve in a series with food inside each respective men's or ladies' room.
But the biggest change comes in the way Segal is approaching food. Saying it was the "hardest thing I've ever done," the now James Beard award-winning pastry chef said she "pushed myself to my limits of my mind; my desserts aren't composed anymore."
This goes back to the idea of moving closer to the craft of cooking, where things will still look delicious, but no longer precious. "I took away the composition of dessert and am giving you just the pastry, or the sweet," Segal said. "In other words, you think of cake, pie, custard, frozen, cookies—my true love. My menu will always [be that]."
She will have an all-American chocolate cake, one small cake that's made with top ingredients like Tcho chocolate, Kilgus Farmstead cream and Kinnikinnick Farm eggs. There will be lemon curd and buttermilk Bavarian custard with a cornmeal crust served with two miniature strawberries on a spoon. Segal will have butterscotch pie with ginger snap crust and toffee chips. She'll have "signatures revisited," like a chocolate souffle tart that's now served in a skillet with salted caramel ice cream frozen on a spoon. And she'll have an antique cart to showcase her beloved cookies that will be wheeled around the room, dim sum style, where guests can select cookies to be weighed and charged by the ounce.
And Segal will introduce what she's calling "The Study," which will be a dessert and will always focus on a seasonal flavor or fruit and will have a cake, a custard, a pie, a cookie and a frozen. "It's a creative way to showcase this fruit and how I think of it," she said. And as a thank you for getting the study, Segal will send you home with a tiny mason jar with the featured fruit, preserved, and a little note. Because following her awakening and the week she's just had, Segal truly has a lot to be thankful for.
· Mindy Segal and the New HotChocolate [TOC]
· Mindy Segal, Bruce Sherman, Next Win Beard Awards [~EChi~]