DMK Restaurants’ Michael Kornick and David Morton have fond memories of their youth when children played in backyard treehouse forts. That’s the fun feeling they aim to replicate with Fort Willow, their upcoming 75-seat bar and restaurant near Lincoln Park in the Elston Industrial Corridor at 1721 N. Elston Avenue. The bar/lounge should open this week with a globetrotting menu including charred broccoli with peanut sauce from Thailand, duck rillette from France, and crispy rock shrimp from just as exotic Florida.
The menu is a celebration of all things spice. There’s Mexican meatballs made with hatch chiles and labneh features zaatar. Fort Willow isn’t just for heatmongers; “The aromatic spices are way more interesting,” said Kornick.
The spicy theme carries over to the cocktails with drinks like a mule made with trendy turmeric and coriander. There are 12 house cocktails including a bubble tea made with vodka, coconut and “Magic Dragon” tea.
“This is a place to gather and talk about flavors,” Morton said. “Hopefully it will be an inspiring place to be as far as it will make you feel.”
Kornick admitted that the menu is scaled bit a back as they’re avoiding larger portions, the type of hulking plates Chicagoans would see at downtown restaurants like Maggiano’s Little Italy and Carmine’s.
“It’s a more fun way to dine,” Kornick said. “This is the change we’re going to see to make it more successful in today’s economic climate.”
The sleek menu will hopefully encourage customers to eat at Fort Willow repeatedly, said Kornick, mindful of the challenges restaurant owners face. Small bites afford diners more flexibility, something many diners — especially younger ones — want, Kornick said. The smaller portions also favor the kitchen which can more-easily send the plates out to their tables as they’re ready rather than waiting to course items out.
“It also allows service to feel more connected to the guests where they can spend more time visiting with the guest, enjoying hospitality elements fo the service, and getting them introduced to new flavors,” Kornick said.
Kornick and Morton have already invested in the developing area near the former home of the A. Finkl & Sons steel plant. They opened Ada Street almost six years ago and last year opened their first coffee shop, Werewolf Coffee Bar. Kornick compared the industrial area to the West Loop, where he was involved in Marche and Red Light in the 1990s. If Amazon or another tech company would expand to that area, the Elston Corridor will grow even faster.
Besides having lower property rents compared to the West Loop, another thing Morton likes about the neighborhood is that it’s not bound by geographic landmarks. Lake Michigan isn’t in sight and the city’s skyline isn’t highly visible. That provides DMK an opportunity to build a more-immersive restaurant.
“It gives them a lot of creative freedom to design an experience for guests,” Morton said.
Check out the menu below. Fort Willow should open this week at the Northwest corner of Elston and Willow.