16" on Center is going two-for-two with secret projects. Hot on the heels of last week's Moneygun opening, the team behind Thalia Hall, The Promontory, Dusek's, and more are dropping a restaurant next door. Opening at 5 p.m., at 664 W. Lake St., Saint Lou's Assembly is a throwback to the neighborhood's meatpacking past.
The concept is inspired by and named after managing partner Bruce Finkelman's grandfather, who owned Monarch Provisions on the corner of Fulton and Sangamon, which provided meat to much of city's restaurants in the 1940s and 1950s. During this time, workers in the meatpacking district would frequent "meat and three" cafeterias. Finkelman himself, who worked at the facility during college, was a cafeteria regular. This style of dining, which revolves around selecting one meat and three sides, is still popular throughout the south, particularly in Nashville, but has yet to make a comeback up north. "As this area changes, there is that old and new guard that are still here that we're here to provide libations and food for," Finkelman says.
The elevated interpretation, overseen by chef Jared Wentworth, seats 50 in the counter-service space. Guests enter to a collage of vintage newspaper clippings and trophies, only to pick one of those plastic trays seldom seen outside of high school cafeterias. Glass separates diners from the buffet that starts with a case full of pastries and continues with herb-crusted prime rib, green bean casserole, and potato gruyere pave. Pay at the counter, which is covered in jars of Chicles, bubblegum baseball cards, and candy cigarettes, before finding a seat at one of the blue vinyl booths. Black and white photographs of Lou in the West Loop's heyday are the final tribute to a bygone era.
Guests will dine on rotisserie meats and cafeteria staples, such as meatloaf wellington, Old Bay-crusted catfish, and slow roasted duck. Sides range from classic mac and cheese to roasted Werp Farm carrots and beets. For lunch, the menu expands to include fried chicken, Moroccan-spiced tofu, gyro, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Daily specials go even more gourmet with Wednesday's whole fried Rushing Waters trout and Friday's lobster thermador. Pecan pie, cream puffs and other desserts are served all day.
Drinks are served from a retro bubbler and include housemade sweet tea and seasonal lemonade. Cocktails are limited to spike rye sweet tea, gin lavender lemonade, and house margarita. However, Moneygun's bar full of classic cocktails is accessible though an arched doorway near the entrance of the restaurant. Five draft beers include Hopwell IPA, Perennial Saison de Lis, and Moody Tongue Applewood Gold. Weather permitting, a large enclosed back patio offers additional seating as well as a great setting for boozy root beer or banana floats. The door to the patio will double as a curbside carryout window servicing N. Union Ave.
Saint Lou's Assembly is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.