In another pandemic collaboration, a Chicago fine dining chef has joined an acclaimed New Orleans sandwich expert to open a restaurant with playful items like a twist on Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap. Big Kids opens Thursday out of Logan Square bar Young American as a love letter to growing up in the 1990s from chefs Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird) and Mason Hereford of Nola sandwich spot Turkey & the Wolf.
Big Kids’ menu features four sandwiches, including fried bologna (the meat’s from Paulina Meat Market, and it also includes mustard, Duke’s mayo, shredded lettuce, American cheese). The menu dives into the ’90s Trapper Keeper notepad aesthetic with three-eyed mutant smiley faces and that pointy “s” logo that everyone used to doodle on notebook covers.
The sandwich is take on Hereford’s own famed fried bologna from New Orleans, which Pfeiffer describes as “arguably the mightiest sandwich ever created.” Pfeiffer was most recently the executive chef at Blackbird, the beloved West Loop restaurant that closed over the summer after two decades. He’s a South Suburban native.
Hereford was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. While he didn’t spend time in Chicago, he shares a love for the city. Both he and Pfeiffer also show their affections from their mothers with in the Amy N Nettie (beef milanese, burnt tomato, pepper rings, provolone), which blends the city’s penchant for breaded steak (think Ricobene’s) with the chef’s childhood favorites — burnt tomato casserole and chicken paprikash, all smothered in cheese. “It’s a hybrid of all those dishes on acid,” Pfeiffer says.
Other offerings include a Veg Crunchwrap (Vietnamese pickles, cilantro, jalapeno, Duke’s mayo, tostada, provolone), a symbol of Pfeiffer’s first encounter with Mexican food at the infamous American chain, a collard melt (braised collard greens, piquante cherry pepper Russian dressing, Swiss, seeded rye), and Good Pasta Salad (Caesar dressing, black olives, red pepper, red onion). Customers will be able to place pre-orders via Tock.
The ’90s theme extends into the cocktail selection as well, most notably in the Ecto Cooler (rum, honey, orange, “green stuff”), a riff on the Ghostbusters-associated bright green cult beverage of the era. There’s also a Tang!-A-Rita (mezcal, Tang!, lime) and BK Negroni (gin, Hawaiian Punch, bitter liqueur). Pfeiffer has even been digging out memorabilia and toys from his mom’s attic for decoration, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures and an impressive collection of R.L. Stine’s spooky Goosebumps books.
Though they live in different cities, Pfeiffer and Hereford became fast friends while working on a pop-up last year and have percolated on the idea of a collaborative sandwich spot ever since. Pfeiffer is leading the project, Hereford stresses, as the NOLA chef has no plans to move north.
Months of idea-swapping texts and phone calls suddenly were pushed to the fore when Blackbird closed. Pfeiffer views the change as an expansion rather than a transition: at Big Kids, he’ll get to reach a larger audience than the one he saw at Blackbird. “When I went to [Turkey & the Wolf] in New Orleans, I saw a huge part of what i wanted to do,” Pfeiffer says. “To see that he was able to do that and find happiness and success, I saw possibilities for myself too... this is the next part of the evolution.”
This is the most recent pivot for Young American’s Kedzie Avenue space. When the bar opened in early 2019, it featured attention-grabbers like “goth bread” made with activated charcoal and leek ash and trendy CBD-infused cocktails. Eight months later, its menu flipped over to Filipino food from chef Nick Jirasek.
Pfeiffer isn’t the only local fine dining chef turning to sandwiches right now. Chefs Will Schlaeger (Next, Saison, Blackbird) and Shawn Clendening (Oriole, Saison, Blackbird) last month launched Cat-Su Sando, a delivery-only spot for Japanese-style sandos and other fun snacks.
Time Out Chicago first reported this opening.
Big Kids, 2545 N. Kedzie Boulevard, Scheduled to open Thursday.