Twain, Tim and Rebekah Graham’s homage to vintage Midwestern cuisine, should open on Tuesday in Logan Square. Chef Tim Graham left Travelle in 2016 with the intention of opening his own restaurant. The restaurant is a collaboration between the Grahams and Branko Palikuca, co-owner of The Dawson, Topaz Café, and Citrine Café.
The restaurant, a tribute to Tim Graham’s Missouri roots, took longer than anticipated. While waiting to find a space, Rebekah Graham bartended at Citrine and Tim Graham worked as a private chef. They also drove for Uber to make ends meet.
“Without that we would have had a harder struggle,” Tim Graham said. “But certainly look at what’s happening around us — it’s not like we were paupers without hope.”
And the space is coming together as they’ve converted a former auto garage at 2445 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Look behind the bar and there’s a copper backdrop with characters from Mark Twain stories including The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Large speakers will pipe disco and funk from Tim Graham’s music collection.
The restaurant took inspiration from spiral notebook cookbooks distributed by Junior Leagues across the Midwest and along the Mississippi River. Eventually, the Grahams would like to station a box near the entrance where diners can drop off recipes. The spirit of community is important to the Grahams. Though there’s a ‘50s feel, Rebekah Graham said they’re very much paying attention to neighborhood trends.
“We want to create a place where the only thing you’re supposed to worry about is being happy,” she said.
Twain isn’t a fine-dining restaurant despite Tim Graham’s experiences working with luminaries like Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ chef Jean Joho. Graham will cook items like red miso mashed potatoes with meatloaf (pork and beef mixed with ginger, all spice, plum wine and a sweet soy glaze) served with nori-crusted onion rings. At about a foot high, it’s a pretty tall dish. There’s also beer cheese soup with three cheeses. The bowl comes with a mini bottle of Miller High Life.
The main dining room has room for 90 people and the front bar’s got space for another 80. Rebekah Graham, the former beverage director for The Publican, is making the drinks. There’s a playful version of a shrimp cocktail (a gimlet garnished with a shrimp) and a seasonal drink called the “Jelly Jar.” The drink will allow Graham to play with seasonal ingredients like pepper jellies and apple butter.
They’ll also pour six draft beers. Most are local, found within a 45-minute walk of the restaurant. The exception is the Saison de Lis from Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis; they’re taking the Samuel Clemens thing seriously. They’re still working on wines, but Rebekah Graham wants to focus on “vintage depth accessibility.” Eventually they’ll have a rotating variety of 60 to 70 bottles.
Pastry chef Stefanie Bishop worked at the Langham and her desserts include a Mississippi mud pie. There’s also the matter of hand-churned ice cream, a staple of family gatherings for Tim Graham. He mentioned how his family jury-rigged a restored Ford Model T to churn ice cream. Graham’s brother, Peter Gerard, has a blog dedicated to hand-churned ice cream. Imagine a cream puff with corn ice cream with blueberries.
The Grahams said the opportunity to work together as husband and wife has strengthened their marriage. They hope to resonate with diners and explore Midwestern nostalgia in unexpected ways. They hope to shatter expectations and give customers a unique experience, something beyond what people think of when they think of “Midwest comfort foods.”
“What we’re going for is kind of a much deeper representation of those values in the Midwest and the tradition of passing down recipes in families,” she said.
Twain opens on Tuesday, August 21.