There’s a new energy inside the former Graham Elliot Bistro space, as the celebrity chef tonight teams with Matthias Merges to open Gideon Sweet off Randolph Restaurant Row. Merges reimagined the restaurant, 841 W. Randolph Street, as more of a spot where customers can drift in while restaurant hopping in the West Loop. And while Gideon Sweet is more-than capable of serving a full meal, there’s more of a bar element with small pours of fancy spirits and small plates that will satisfy without stuffing.
Elliot, at a private event on Thursday at the restaurant, again stressed how happy he is to work with Merges, a friend from their times cooking together at Charlie Trotter’s in Lincoln Park. Elliot touted an interactive experience, something that Merges explained. At fine-dining restaurants, places like Trotter’s, servers indulge in educating diners, getting to know them and better figuring out what dishes they’ll like. That type of experience shouldn’t only be reserved for dining out on special occasions, Merges said. There’s a special satisfaction between the restaurant staff and the diner when that connection is struck.
Merges has opted for German terminology, naschen (to nibble), to describe the restaurant. Instead of using tapas, the Spanish word for small plates, Merges didn’t want to pigeon hole the restaurant’s menu and hoped to move away from visions of bacon-wrapped dates. Gideon Sweet’s international inspiration includes Indian lentils, Mediterranean lamb meatballs, and more. Labels, overall, are something that Merges wanted to shatter: “I think Gideon Sweet is whatever you want it to be when you arrive,” he said, adding “This is exactly how chefs eat...it’s run by chefs for chefs.”
Dishes include a bone marrow croquette with bonito flakes, and Merges’ favorite dish: a clam toast (focaccia, uni butter, sweet clams with broth). It reminds Merges of eating buckets of steamer clams with his dad on the east coast.
Barman Alex Bachman, who Merges hired to open Billy Sunday in Logan Square, has reunited with Folkart. The drink menu includes small pours that Merges doesn’t want to mistake them for shots. These small, 1-1/2-ounce or so pours are paired with menu items, perfect for noshing. Say, for example, a gin with vermouth salt complementing a waxy aged cheese.
Gideon Sweet will eventually serve weekend brunch to go along with dinner service. On the business side, Merges said adjustments are part of running a successful restaurant. That’s why Gideon Sweet offers variety and flexibility. The small bites also makes sense for the patio. Merges’ Folkart Restaurant Management will unveil the outdoor space, hidden between Green Street Smoked Meats and RM Champagne Salon, next year.
“You have to be really nimble, you have to adjust,” Merges said. “There are so many unknowns that you’ll come across that you need to come prepared with great food and beverage and serve them in a great, inviting space.”
Graham Elliot Bistro opened in 2012 and then closed in 2016 only to reopen with the aid of DMK Restaurants. The rebirth was short, as it closed again the same year. But Elliot is giving it another shot with Merges. Find out if Gideon Sweet, named after a kind of apple, can find a West Loop niche starting tonight.
Gideon Sweet, 841 W. Randolph Street, (312) 888-2258, open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sunday through Friday; 4 p.m. on 3 a.m. on Saturday. Kitchen closes at 1 a.m. daily. Weekend brunch upcoming.