There's a giant new concept coming to Wilmette, from a longtime do-it-yourself restaurant innovator. Mitch Dulin, who most recently owned Central Street Cafe in Evanston, is hard at work to open a 9,000 square-foot four-tiered concept in May. Dulin is bringing together decades of restaurant, retail, and design training and experience to anchor the project himself. He sees Wilmette as an underserved and untapped market, one step away from the current boom in Evanston. Wilmette Mayor Chris Canning thinks so too, luring Dulin to sell Central Street and open The Avenue. Construction is now underway.
Dulin's path lead him from Binny's stock boy in the 1960's to wine teacher at the London School of Economics, to restaurant management teacher at DePaul, to restauranteur. The Avenue is a behemoth project with rock-bottom prices, his food and beverage contacts combining with his ability to handle multiple aspects himself leads to deals for customers, like they're eating at a big chain.
The design, envisioned and planned by Dulin, features a bar, lounge area, dining room, and family room. The bar will seat 30 in European-style deep bar tops, serving craft beer, small-batch bourbon, single malt scotch, and an "ahead of the curve" wine list. Think glass pours in the $6-8 range. The family area will also seat 30 in booths and transition into more bar seating later in the evening. The 40-seat lounge area will be in the front of the space, which he says will be "like a living room." Coffee tables and recliners will provide customers a chance to relax. An outdoor space will open later, he imagines a beergarden or microbrewery filling it.
The dining room will be more upscale, Dulin says, with 60 seats spread out to sacrifice seating for a more refined experience. Menu choices will be similar to those served at Central Street before he sold it. Expect entrees like fresh seafood, pasta, salads, and sandwiches in the $14 area, rather than $25. Specific dishes include asiago gnocchi with truffle cream, foot-long N.Y. strip with Yukon gold cheddar potatoes, and veal milanese with organic arugula.
Dulin isn't hiring a name chef, believing in training kitchen teams himself. "I ask (chefs) 'what do you do?'" Dulin says. "'I cook food,' they say. Then you're a cook.'" He says he's never hired anyone out of culinary school.
The building is the old Illinois Bone and Joint Institute at 1144 Wilmette Ave, a block-and-a-half from the Metra stop in downtown Wilmette. Dulin isn't hiring a design firm, he sketches out the plans himself and then hires an architect. He doesn't hire contractors either, he's his own general contractor.
His methods have led to features in USA Today, Chicago Magazine, and ABC News with Diane Sawyer. If The Avenue leads to a Wilmette boom, he might be featured many more times.
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