The Smith is bringing its same bag of tricks the chain’s deployed in New York City and Washington, D.C. to Chicago. A glance around the Smith’s River North construction site reveals the same aesthetic — subway tiling and Edison bulbs — that the chain’s used at its six other locations. The Chicago location should open the last week of April at 400 N. Clark Street.
Ownership has embraced its critiques. The chain is known as being loud. The menu doesn’t really specialize in anything, but it’s designed to pander to everyone with items from truffle fries, a raw bar, burgers, and bibimbap. While some group the Smith in the same category as chains like Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s, others, including Eater NY’s Stephanie Tuder, cite the Smith as unfairly maligned by food snobs. Some chains may resort to frozen food, but not at the Smith, said executive chef Brian Ellis.
“We don’t really buy freezers,” Ellis said, noting that they need to keep two different types of ice for the restaurant’s cocktails cold.
The menu changes four to five times a year, Ellis said, so there’s a sense of seasonality and ethical sourcing. The Smith’s mantra is to provide something for everyone, to be a neighborhood go-to for date nights, brunch for parents with young children, and a pre-show meal. River North is the ideal Chicago neighborhood for these things.
Ellis said they’d been looking to open a restaurant in Chicago for years. They looked at West Loop, but didn’t want to compete with the Rick Baylesses and Stephanie Izards of the world along tawny Randolph Street. The Smith is about a casual atmosphere where customers can expect dependability. Ellis said he expects the restaurant to be a destination with suburbanites and tourists eager to visit.
There are a few new menu items for the Chicago location. Not wanting to get in the middle of any civic pizza debates, the Smith will offer its own cast-iron cooked pies. They experimented with pizza at the D.C. locations. The pizza is kind of a hybrid of New York and Chicago styles, said Smith’s diplomatic brand director Dana Balding.
The Chicago location will also have doughnuts, a first for the chain, said Ellis. They’ll make yeast doughnuts which will be good for brunch. The Smith hopes to bring some energy to River North during weekend mornings. The neighborhood is usually sleepy on Saturdays and Sundays until the bar crowd gets going later in the day. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and will be open early on weekdays.
The Chicago space is unusual as the restaurant has blended three spaces, including a former Citibank, on the Northwest corner of Clark and Kinzie. That lends to an unusual layout; the kitchen and second private dining room are in the basement. There’s lot of big booths and mirrors mimicking looks at other Smith locations. There’s also a bar in the first-floor private room.
There’s 30 seats at the bar covered by a zinc bar top. There’s a focus on “Chicago things” Ellis said, and they’re going with mostly local beer and spirits. Expect a few draft cocktails. A sidewalk patio will have room for 58.
Stay tuned for more details when the Smith Chicago is ready to open.