Jay Schroeder, the architect behind Mezcaleria Las Flores — Eater Chicago’s reigning bar of the year — has joined the team at Quiote as the Logan Square Mexican restaurant’s new beverage director. He’s bringing his knowledge of mezcal to the restaurant’s basement bar, while also mixing drinks for the main dining room, and eventually creating new large-format drinks for the taco truck-equipped patio. The move makes sense for both sides, as Schroeder, a former bar manager at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill, had left MLF in January amid acrimony.
Quiote chef/owner Dan Salls and Schroeder have known each other for years, and the new guy has immediately fit in with the crew. Schroeder took over last week and Salls said Schroeder’s approach to cocktails mirrors how he makes Quiote’s food. He’s already been a boon when talking with suppliers, and his presence will help take Quiote to the next level, Salls said. Schroeder may be the biggest authority on mezcal in Chicago. They started talking about this possibility in January but waited.
“This was the perfect opportunity — the best of both worlds coming together,” Salls said, staying ever-industrious as he scooped up melon balls at the restaurant. “There was no rush, we wanted to make sure we did it right. We saw it as something that was probably a longtime running, but it finally came together; it’s kind of weird how the universe works.”
Schroeder is already bolstering synergy between the kitchen and bar, and that increased communication has given Salls goosebumps. They’ll travel over Labor Day weekend to Mexico to seek out new glassware and search for new ingredients. Glassware was a signature aspect for Schroeder at MLF. He said it will take about a month for him to develop a new drink list for Quiote; he cooked up the concept for MLF in about a month in a half. While he enjoys pairing a good cocktail with a composed dish, he’s taking a wait and see attitude. Quiote’s combo of fine dining, tacos, mezcal, and outdoor space drew Schroeder to the job: “My God, the potential — it’s crazy,” he said.
Former beverage director Bobby Baker joined Quiote when the two-level restaurant opened in January. Baker always had plans to return to Mexico, and the intention was to stay only until he could steady Quiote’s bar program, restaurant partner Paul Biasco said. Now that Baker has helped pour that foundation, it’s Schroeder’s job to build. Biasco added that he believes Quiote already has the best mezcal selection in city, and they needed Schroeder to help navigate the agave landscape and supply his infectious energy. Schroeder is happy to oblige.
“There’s so much white noise, people jockeying for positions — there’s a lot of stuff out there that I don’t believe in,” he said.
Quiote’s customers have surprised Salls by showing more of an adventurous side when it comes to trying different mezcals. Salls and Biasco have also built a wine list featuring Mexican vineyards, but trade restrictions makes that difficult. They haven’t chatted about cocktail names, but MLF fans know Schroeder enjoyed dropping a few hip-hop references on his drink menus. The ideas should soon start flowing, but Schroeder is keeping a few cards close to the vest: “I can make no promises,” he said with a laugh.