There’s big changes inside The Robey and Hollander, the hotels which opened less than a year ago at Wicker Park’s infamous six-corner intersection. Cafe Robey, the first-floor restaurant inside the namesake hotel, has a new chef with a new dinner menu (see below) set to debut on Sunday. Meanwhile, The Hollander — the Robey’s neighboring sibling — will be rebranded to Robey Hall and converted to loft-style rooms. Robey Hall already includes H! Bar a lobby cafe/bar with live music and the hotel’s new name will help relaunch that space. Robey staff said the hotels needed to be more colorful and appeal to more to locals.
While the former Hollander goes through minor work, the focus is on the Robey. When Cafe Robey opened in December, it launched with an upscale French-American menu, but apparently the food failed catch the attentions of diners in the center of Wicker Park.
The Robey reacted by promoting sous chef Kevin McAllister to replace chef Bradley Stellings. Stellings departed for New York after disagreeing with the restaurant’s proposed new direction. The Robey has also hired a new food and beverage director. Nicholas Thornycroft knows the changes may raise eyebrows, but said they aren’t dramatic. He’s confident that the food will be better received: “I think we just have to stick what we know and trust and treat out guests as well as they should be treated, and really focus on a fun atmsophere.”
That’s where making the food more colorful is important to staff. There will be more color on the plate, and the dishes will feature brighter flavors, said McAllister. There’s also a new brunch menu debuting on Monday. The previous iteration didn’t do as well to cater to families with young children and customers needing a late morning pick-me-up after partying hard the previous night. Chilaquilles, duck hash, and brioche french toast will help.
McAllister said his biggest challenge was to create the new dinner menu, reworking all items with more technique: “Before it was no more than sear, bake, broil, and boil — there are a lot more moving parts on this menu,” he said.
That’s demonstrated in the pastrami duck breast, one of Thornycroft’s favorite items. The kitchen staff took about two hours to prepare the previous iteration of the item, but the new version takes three days. The dish is a good example of what the new menu is about, taking familiar flavors and expressing them in new ways. The “Beef” provides another highlight with a 6-ounce N.Y. strip steak with red wine beef ragout, herb gnochi, browned pearl onions, celery root puree, and fine herbs. There’s also a few of new vegan dishes, including the “Carrot.” The wine list, while still focusing on France, will see the additions of more new world selections reflecting trendier regions. That’s one way to pull in younger clientele.
The Robey’s rooftop bar, the Up and Up, won’t see any changes, Thornycroft said. The cocktail program is going well. Meanwhile, Cafe Robey’s new dinner menu debuts on Sunday and the brunch menu on Monday. Check the new items out below.