Lincoln Park’s new feel-good restaurant opens today, offering diners a chance to both indulge and give back. A new American restaurant designed to promote positivity and serve thoughtful small and large plates, Centre Street Kitchen from Erik Baylis of Big Onion Tavern Group sits at 1224 W. Webster Avenue. The space previously housed Big Onion-owned sports bar Derby.
Baylis wants to offer diners an unusual and heartening experience: immediately after being seated, staff will encourage them to put down their menus and tell their companions what they appreciate about one another. This approach is central to the restaurant’s (and Baylis’) ethos: giving back is both fun and habit-forming.
This theme runs throughout the restaurant’s design, and is most apparent in its donation wall, a section of the space devoted to sharing the names of loved ones with cancer. Customers who want to add a name can donate funds for pediatric cancer patients and their families, facilitated through Baylis’ non-profit, the Never Had A Bad Day Foundation. One hundred percent of donations will go to the organization, and Baylis plans to raise $7 million.
The mammoth 5,100 square-foot space includes three separate dining rooms and two full bars. The front dining room where the donation wall resides seats 55, while the back dining room seats 88 and opens to an outdoor patio, where an additional 44 diners can sit. Local designer Kate Birchfield created a clean, modern space featuring cream, slate grey, and black, complimented by pops of color from greenery and a pink neon sign bearing Baylis’ catchphrase: “I’ve never had a bad day in my life.” A cancer survivor himself, he hopes that diners will take selfies in front of the sign and share it on social media with messages of positivity. Customers can also compose a handwritten wish on a wine cork and add it to the restaurant’s “wishing well.”
Monica Riley (Hopleaf, LOKaL) and corporate chef Jim Heflin also integrate the restaurant’s theme into their menu, avoiding ingredients like cream and butter and offering plenty of vegetable-centric dishes. Small plates include a cast-iron roasted cauliflower (guajillo glaze, lemon, toasted pumpkin seeds, cotija) and gochujang cabbage wraps (house-smoked heirloom pork shoulder, gochujang vinaigrette, cucumber slaw, tamari emulsion, toasted sesame, mint). Larger, heartier dishes feature proteins such as a pan-roasted NY strip (horseradish gremolata, charred summer beans, mushroom conserva) and a grilled silk snapper (Fresno chile, garlic paste, braised black beans, watermelon radish salad, cilantro). The full dinner menu is available below.
Some selections are available only for lunch, including a chicken sandwich (raclette, truffle-tomato confit aioli, avocado, sprouted-grain hoagie) and mushroom toast (mushroom conserva, sprouted rye, creme fraiche, herbs, baby kale). Beverage options include a selection of local beers, some “innovative” takes on classic cocktails, and a comprehensive whisky list. Baylis collaborated with City Winery to create a signature Centre Street Kitchen cabernet sauvignon.
Big Onion Tavern Group runs a range of Chicago-area restaurants and sports bars. These include Fatpour Tap Works in Wicker Park and McCormick Place as well as Hopsmith Tavern on the Near North Side and in Nashville, Tennessee. It also runs River North’s Brunch, Old Town bar Woodie’s Flat, and the Irish Oak in Wrigleyville.
Centre Street Kitchen opens today in Lincoln Park.
Centre Street Kitchen, 1224 W. Webster Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.