Summer is worth waiting for in Chicago, no matter how long the wait, and today a much-anticipated restaurant space debuts along the Chicago Riverwalk. Pizzeria Portofino is the first phase for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’s new restaurant complex on the northeast corner of Clark Street and the Chicago River. Later this year, the company’s new upscale seafood restaurant, RPM On the Water — a spinoff of the collaboration between LEYE and celebrity couple Bill and Giuliana Rancic — will open upstairs.
The anticipation for this project extends beyond fans of Bill and Giuliana and beyond Chicago’s restaurant world. The restaurant complex represents another domino falling for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s quest to transform the once-barren area around the river. In recent years, Chicago has seen many restaurants and bars including a riverside location of City Winery and Chicago Brewhouse open. The city controls the property and essentially serves as a landlord. This year, they’ve opened up the space to smaller restaurants including Chiya Chai (the Nepalese tea slingers from Logan Square) and Lincoln Park brunch favorite Batter and Berries.
Those independent restaurants will operate in the shadow of Lettuce Entertain You, Chicago’s largest restaurant company (excluding fast food, sorry McDonald’s). The scale of the project was so large that Emanuel called a news conference to announce the project in March 2018. The figures may have changed, but last year LEYE said it spent $50 million on remodeling and other costs. The four-level restaurant complex occupies a former office tower that included Bridge House Tavern.
Pizzeria Portofino rests directly on the riverwalk and features a 130-foot outdoor terrace. LEYE chef and partner Doug Psaltis works with the Rancics on the RPM line of restaurants. He said the pizzeria’s inspiration comes from the Italian Riviera. It was typical to find restaurants serving hand-stretched pies hidden throughout the region. He sees customers coming in and relaxing outdoors with a bottle of rosé or an Aperol spritz. There’s also charcoal-grilled seafood like a split garlic lobster and cold-water prawns. It’ll be open for lunch, dinner, and brunch on the weekends.
Overall, the 35,000-square-foot and four-level project is one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2019. The space also includes a private event space called RPM Events on the Water that should open in September. RPM on the Water, the seafood restaurant that’s open to the public, is still on target for the fall.
Stay tuned for a peek inside.