Saved By The Max, the nostalgic pop-up that closed in May after a year in Wicker Park, was a tough act to follow, but the restaurant’s operators managed to leverage their industry connections to create The Riot Feast. This three-month pop-up debuts on Saturday inside the same space at 1941 W. North Ave. The restaurant is run in conjunction with the operators of Riot Fest, one of America’s largest music festivals. Pop-up tickets are available via Tock.
Riot Fest creative director Jeremy Scheuch recalled the April phone calls with Saved By The Max’s Derek Berry where Berry pitched him and festival founder Mike Petryshyn. The idea was quickly dismissed: “That’s a really stupid idea, we don’t have the time,” Scheuch said.
But they gave Berry another chance to explain, and the idea resonated with Petryshyn. They hammered out details — they weren’t sure if they should recreate Riot Fest completely or copy CBGB’s, New York’s venerable punk club. Instead they space is inspired by traveling carnivals and TV shows like American Horror Story: Freak Show and Carnivale, an HBO show that ran for two seasons from 2003 to 2005.
The food will be family style and the seating is communal. Scheuch compared it to going to a general admission show where concertgoers make friends with strangers. The menu is full of inside jokes and band references. The punk rock names are reminiscent of the formula used at Donut Fiend. The LA shop the opened in 2013 from Drive Like Jehu’s Mark Trombino. DLJ has played Riot Fest and Trombino is a record producer, working on albums for Riot Fest alums including Jimmy Eat World and Blink-182. Riot Feast customers will also find corny menu references to bands like Taking Back Sunday (Taking Back Sundae), The Misfits (Where Turkeys Dare), and Guided By Voices (Guided By Rices).
Brian Fisher, the chef at Entente in Lakeview, created Riot Feast’s menu. Fisher learned much from working at Saved By The Max and will use a similar formula. Scheuch said they’ve tried to stay out of Fisher’s way, trusting the chef to execute and adding the jokes in later. For example, cornbread comes with butter shaped like actor John Stamos. Back in 2013, Riot Fest featured a butter sculpture of the Full House star.
“I’m not sure how this is going to go down,” Fisher said, talking about the family-style aspect.
The gig isn’t the most-pressing thing for the chef who just last week cooked at the James Beard House in New York. Invitations to the Beard House are rare, and preparing a meal there is an honor that gives chefs a rare opportunity to impress diners they wouldn’t normally be able to reach. Fisher called the Beard experience “the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life.”
He learned a lot from his time at The Max, calling his team “a well-oiled machine.” While he’s proud of developing the menu, he kept it real: “It’s definitely more for the experience than the food.”
Though the interiors may outshine the food, Fisher still kept it creative. One of his items is “Chicago-style hot chicken.” It’s fried chicken served on top of funnel cake and topped with sport peppers and other fixings Chicagoans would find at local hot dog stands. Many of the items can also be converted to vegan and vegetarian, just in case Morrissey shows up.
Scheuch is hopeful they can convince touring band members to guest bartend while they’re in town. Also, don’t expect a year-long run, like The Max. The Riot Feast will likely be around for only three months and opens on Saturday. Check out the menus below.