"Bridgeport is not the same as when I grew up," chef Kevin Hickey says, "and I'd like to see it come back."
That's part of the mission behind Hickey's Duck Inn, now backed by Rockit Ranch, that could open in as soon as two weeks at 2701 S. Eleanor. The setting is an old Chicago time capsule that's symbolic of the working class neighborhood, a century-old house where three generations of one family lived and ran a bar. Hickey grew up on the same street and lives in the area.
There's three parts of Duck Inn, which is named after a bar that existed down the street: a front bar and lounge, a dining room with "more serious cuisine," and a backyard, porch and garden. The former Allium chef says he only "redecorated" the space, stripping and staining walls, adding decorations and furnishings. Decor is mid-century modern (specifically inspired by the year 1964); original hardwood floors and exposed brick are decorated with antiques and newer items reminiscent of the that time.
Expect twists on casual snacks inspired by his grandmother and the original Duck Inn in the "lively" tavern area—hamburger sandwiches, a duck confit and foie gras tamale, a duck fat hot dog, Korean pancake fritters with kimchee aioli, chili cheese fries, and fried Buffalo chicken thighs stuffed with chorizo. They will cost between $8 and $14.
In the dining room, the Bottlefork chef says he'll cook "more serious cuisine" but without pretense and white tablecloths. Laid out in the traditional appetizer/entree/dessert format, there will also be a tasting menu with wine pairings. A rotisserie duck for two will be the signature, served with potatoes crisped in the duck's drippings and seasonal salad. Appetizers will cost $9-17, while entrees will run in the $19-27 range.
Hickey, along with Bottlefork beverage director Brandon Phillips, is also putting together an interesting beverage program with an exclusive whiskey and beers. They're working with Wild Turkey on a single-barrel variety; with Begyle Brewing on an apple ale; Une Annee on a "Chicken Gravy" beer brewed with carrots, celery, sage and marjoram; and with Bridgeport's Marz Community Brewing, located at Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar.
Phillips' cocktails will mostly be versions of highballs, utilizing a variety of liquors and carbonated beverages in updated versions of throwback two-ingredient drinks. Also look for a signature soda from nearby Filbert's—a "duck a l'orange" cream soda.
While Hickey is now a partner at Rockit Ranch and Duck Inn is under their umbrella, he says that it's his "passion project" and that Rockit is mostly there for marketing and other support. It was in the works long before they opened Bottlefork and he signed onto a major position with the company, he says.
This return to his neighborhood roots will finally be open within a few short weeks, depending on final inspections. Don't be surprised to see Hickey's family helping in the kitchen and doing homework there just as three generations of the previous family ownership was.