It’s taken a long time for Sam Engelhardt to open his own restaurant, but he’s finally ready. Engelhardt, an industry veteran who worked as the opening chef de cuisine at West Loop’s ever-popular Au Cheval, plans to debut En Passant in late spring or early summer at 3010 W. Diversey Avenue, near the Logan Square and Avondale border.
The name for the restaurant comes from chess, as Engelhardt has played the game since he was 12. It’s French for “in passing,” and a reference to a rare move. The 1,600-square-foot restaurant will be a 40-seater with hopes for a six-seat chef’s counter if there’s room. There’s also a seven-seat bar. Imagine a comfy spot surrounded with dark woods. Engelhardt may go the way of a casino. Those spaces don’t have clocks in the hopes gamblers will stay at their tables longer without a sense of time. En Passant’s motivations aren’t that nefarious as Engelhardt wants customers to be immersed while enjoying timeless old-world classics.
The timing is right for Engelhardt. He has a 1-year-old daughter with wife Celia Perez (the chief financial officer at Hogsalt, Au Cheval’s parent company), who is from Logan Square. His wife’s roots give him an upper hand when it comes to knowing the neighborhood. Engelhardt has spent time at Longman & Eagle in Logan Square, as a consultant for South Loop steakhouse Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, Kith & Kin in Lincoln Park, and at Clever Rabbit in Wicker Park.
“I’ve done a number of openings in Chicago and elsewhere,” Engelhardt said. “It’s always been under somebody else’s masthead, so it’s nice to take a swing on my own.”
En Passant will serve old-world cuisine with a tilt toward Europe. Duck rillette with orange marmalade, fish pie with cod, and choucroute garni made with kielbasa and sauerkraut (Engelhardt’s family is German; that’s a tribute to them) are planned for the menu. These items are part of a pop-up on Friday and Saturday at Baker Miller, 4655 N. Lincoln Avenue. Tickets cost $65 and are available online.
Other items, like coq au vin, will appear on the restaurant’s menu. Engelhardt said what makes his food his own is how he intends to execute traditional recipes. Engelhardt traveled through South Asia and China and said he learned to cook other culture’s cuisines while at Hogsalt where he was also a culinary director.
“It’s old-world comfort food, I know that sounds kind of vague,” Engelhardt said. “Old world can mean something else for anybody, but it’s how I connect with diners.”
Food is how Engelhardt said he expresses himself and builds relationships with people. The pop-up will help him dial in how he cooks. He’s excited to see how customers react to his food and plans to learn, something that he absorbed at Hogsalt.
“When I was younger, I was naive,” Engelhardt said. “I thought you could just cook good food and that was all to the equation.”
Au Cheval opened in 2012, and Engelhardt said no one who worked at Hogsalt thought it would reach the popularity it currently enjoys. Diners may have heard about the restaurant’s burger. Engelhardt has since seen other members of Hogsalt’s team go on to success. Engelhardt also left, but he wasn’t ready to open his own restaurant.
Engelhardt has worked 90-hour weeks. The restaurant industry’s long hours and wages that are dependent on tips make it difficult for many hospitality professionals to raise families or have full lives away from work. Engelhardt doesn't want his workers to go through what he did. He wants to create a positive environment. For example, the restaurant won’t be open on holidays.
“As a small-business owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure [your employees] don’t miss out on these things,” he said.
Visit the pop-up over the weekend for a preview and come back for updates.
En Passant, 3010 W. Diversey Avenue, planned for a late spring or summer opening.