Most of Doug Dunlay’s restaurants see a change of atmosphere at night, as parents tuck their children in and the bars at 4 Star Restaurant Group’s restaurants grow busier. The group, which includes Crosby’s Kitchen in Lakeview, takes pride in being family friendly, but their new restaurant around the corner, Ella Elli, is a change, a departure even from the straight-up American fare offered at most of their spots. The restaurant, planned for a March 7 opening, is billed as an intimate space for date nights, gathering place for groups who want to catch up over a few bottles of wine.
“One thing that we hear more often than not, especially at Crosby’s, is people will say ‘oh I don’t go there until after 8 o’clock, I don’t want to be there with a lot of kids there,’” Dunlay, 4 Star’s co-founder, said. “That’s why we’re opening Elli, it’s more of an adult restaurant, if you will. It’s still going to have the same great service and great food, but it’s just not going to be geared as much toward family.”
Ella Elli, 1349 W. Cornelia Ave., will allow 4 Star’s chefs to cut loose a bit more and give the neighborhood more options rather than a bad burger from a tavern, Dunlay explained. It’s not pure Italian. The menu shows a variety of European influences mixing Mediterranean and Italian with fresh produce that provides a dash of California. There’s artisanal toasts and they’ll serve a variety of charcuterie procured off site. Most of the pastas, pizza and entrees are meant to be shared. The most-expensive item is lamb scottadito at $27.
“We’re very cognizant that we’re still in a neighborhood and our food is definitely priced that way,” Dunlay said.
Dunlay sees Ella Elli as an elegant neighborhood restaurant with elevated food. That’s a similar formula used by Billy Lawless (Gage, Beacon Tavern) down the street on Southport at Coda di Volpe. But the intimacy of Ella Elli’s space makes it unique, Dunlay reasoned. There’s also a bigger bar, which should be popular with patrons who want to split a few appetizers and drinks. There’s also a lounge area with couches and a fireplace to complement the dining room. Overall, there’s room for 75, as 4 Star brought over SPACE Architects + Planners to design the space. Grip, the branding/identity agency that’s worked on restaurants, including Girl & the Goat, also worked on the Ella Elli. They’ll also have sidewalk seating.
Four Star’s restaurants include Dunlays on Clark, Smoke Daddy, Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar and Tucco & Blondie. Those restaurants are linked in that the group’s staff is “obssesive about the food,” Dunlay said. The Lakeview area has shown an appetite for more upscale items, growing away from the bar and grills that once littered the street.
This is 4 Star’s first new restaurant since executive chef Todd Stein left for Formento’s. In Stein’s place, 4 Star has promoted Matt Eversman into the role. They’ll start with dinner service with plans to start brunch in the first week of May.
Ella Elli should open in about a month, giving Southport a new and more refined experience, Dunlay hopes. Check out the full menu below.