The folks behind one of Chicago’s most acclaimed Italian restaurants plan to open a burger bar in a space they believe is “the keystone of River West.” A small, inconspicuous, freestanding space, in an island in the middle of the Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee intersection, has existed solely to prop up a billboard for the last quarter-century or so. But as soon as late this summer 494 N. Milwaukee Ave. will be home to Maillard Tavern, the first non-Italian restaurant for the Piccolo Sogno crew across the street, who signed a lease on it a few months ago and are applying for permits next week, according to chef-owner Tony Priolo. And Priolo strongly believes it will unlock the potential of the burgeoning neighborhood that some see as the gateway to downtown Chicago.
“Eight years ago (when Piccolo Sogno opened) there weren’t even people walking down the street (in River West),” Priolo says. “As soon as (this corner) pops the whole neighborhood changes — it’s the last piece of the puzzle for River West. We have to have a fun, cool place because the neighborhood is alive.”
What Priolo plans to be that fun cool place is a casual restaurant and bar that focuses on burgers, booze, and more. He’s still working on the menu but says “we’re going to have some kickass burgers cooked in duck fat” as well as fries, soft-serve ice cream, and doughnut sticks. Maillard Tavern is named for French scientist Louis-Camille Maillard, who is credited with discovering the Maillard reaction, otherwise known as the process of browning food. So the restaurant will be “a tribute to browning things,” Priolo says.
The space is small — around 1,400 square feet — but it will include 30-40 seats as well as a small bar in a “simple, fast, casual” environment. Expect cocktails, local craft beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks to be available. Priolo and partner Ciro Longobardo plan to hire a beverage director to run the booze program soon. They also plan to keep it open late on the weekends, as it’s also at the same intersection as popular watering holes Richard’s Bar, Emmitt’s Pub, and The Dawson.
In addition to Piccolo Sogno, a longtime Eater 38 restaurant, Priolo and Longobardo own Nonnina (formerly Piccolo Sogno Due) in River North, so Maillard Tavern will be their first foray into running a non-Italian restaurant. “We eat other food (besides Italian),” Priolo says with a laugh. “We have burgers all the time (for staff meals). What does the neighborhood need? There are no burgers around here.”
And if Priolo is correct, his burgers and drinks will change the complexion of River West. More to come soon.