Virtue, the new restaurant from former MK the Restaurant chef Erick Williams, is set to stealthily debut Thursday night in Hyde Park. Williams seeks to redefine southern cooking with an evolving menu of American Southern food favorites.
There’s a dining room menu and a bar menu, but all items will be available on both sides of the space at 1462 E. 53rd Street — the former A10 space. Williams will eventually serve barbecue brisket, but he’s also considering items like pig’s feet fritters on the bar side. He’s keeping it real.
Williams said he doesn’t enjoy the notion of networking, but he understands the importance of mentoring and keeping in touch with a solid group of friends in the industry. That’s very important to him given the scarcity of African-American chefs in Chicago. Much of the art comes from friends and contain sentimental touches. Cabinets are decorated with African symbols meaning “courage,” “freedom,” and “wisdom.” A painting of a group of diverse friends includes poet Langston Hughes and Civil Rights leader Ida B. Wells. Williams’ wife is a huge Hughes fan; they named their son “Langston.”
The bathrooms both get a touch of soul. The women’s room features a black and white photo of Aretha Franklin. The men’s bathroom, which used to be the entrance leading to a neighboring theater, gets both a photo of Franklin and James Brown. Don’t read too much into the photos being behind the old windows’ bars. There’s no commentary here, Williams said. Williams also worked with Jason Pickleman, a graphic designer who also worked with MK.
Williams’ menu could be considered soul food, and that’s a complicated matter. There’s been much discussion on what fits that description. Williams wants to veer away from that descriptor as there are too many stigmas. For example, he doesn’t want people to feel Virtue is focusing on fried food. They’ll celebrate the certain techniques, but he doesn’t consider Virtue to be a soul food restaurant.
“Cooking American southern food expands far beyond the soul food category and lets us serve dishes that originated in all the Southern regions, allowing diners to experience a variety of ingredients and culture,” he said.
The restaurant is an ambitious one, Williams admitted, but he’s ready for the challenge. Take a tour of the space below. Virtue is opening tonight and will be open again on Friday before regrouping for regular hours next week.
Virtue, 1462 E. 53rd Street, hours not posted yet.