When Edgewater’s new Midwestern slow-food spot Beard & Belly and Honeypie Bakery debuted last Friday after years of planning and preparation, it wasn’t exactly the launch its team imagined. Instead of pouring beers for neighborhood residents from a brand new draft system or serving up plates of poutine to excited diners, owners and staff are boxing up their comfort-food classics for pickup at their newly renovated storefront, due to Illinois’s stay-at-home order. Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances surrounding the opening, locals have rallied around the new business, which has sold out of food every day since.
Originally founded in 2015 at the Long Room, one of the city’s best beer bars, Beard & Belly began as a food truck-style operation. Schrage and Torres griddled burgers and poutine there until 2017, before striking out to find a space of their own. The project also includes pies from a Milwaukee favorite, Honeypie Cafe.
“It was a long road to get here and at the end of it was a global pandemic, but we managed to open last weekend,” partner Andrew Barbera says.
Currently offering a pickup menu of hits like the “Ubiquitous Grilled Cheese” (brioche, butterkäse, 2-year cheddar, tomato jam) and “the Belly’s Burger” (5-ounce patty, butterkäse, roasted serrano, pickles, onion jam, “awesome sauce,” potato bun), chefs and partners Kyle Schrage (“the Beard”) and Jim Torres (“the Belly”) aim to provide a satisfying selection that’s achievable even with staffing, cost, and product constraints.
They’re also thinking about the impact transport has on their food; chips now serve as burger accoutrement because fries usually don’t travel well. “This is the only representation of our food to people right now, so it’s got to be high quality,” Barbera says. “We want to make sure people are getting best product when we know they have to travel with it.”
The chefs plan to expand their menu selection soon. The early offerings are focused on popular items that don’t cost a lot to make. After selling out, they feel bolstered by the neighborhood’s enthusiastic response. A few vegan and vegetarian options are in the pipeline, and they also hope to start selling six packs of beer.
In addition to its savory dishes, the restaurant also features some famous sweets. Barbera, Schrage, and Torres have partnered with with Milwaukee-based pie expert Valeri Lucks, who owns the wildly popular Bayview spot Honeypie Cafe, along with two other restaurants. Formerly a Chicago hospitality industry fixture, Lucks opened Lakeview’s Northdown Cafe and Taproom, which she helped grow into a spot for late-night pie and craft beer.
Lucks has a seemingly bottomless rotating selection of 30 fruit and 50 cream pies in her rolodex, with flavors changing often. Offerings of the moment, made by local pie maker Ryan Rademacher, include (but are definitely not limited to) cherry, apple, Key Lime cream, and coconut cream. Pies are available for pickup by the slice.
Workers have gutted and remodeled the buildings at at 6155-57 N. Broadway Street, connecting two formerly discrete storefronts. Beard & Belly sits on one side of the shared space and features a retractable garage door, outdoor patio, and slightly elevated dining are that looks out onto Broadway. Honeypie operates on the other side, where current pickup customers are now retrieving orders.
“It was pretty crushing, to be honest,” Torres says. “All of us have harbored this dream since our early twenties at the latest — we’ve been in the industry our entire adult lives...then to get to finish line and be told by the government for first time in history that no one can go to a restaurant for foreseeable future.”
It took some time for the partners to process the weight of that reality, they said, but they soon recalibrated in an effort to make the best of the situation and move forward. Though Beard & Belly and Honeypie’s grand opening wasn’t what they had planned, they feel fortunate to be able to open at all. “We really appreciate support we’ve been getting — it’s overwhelming, almost,” Barbera said. “Emotionally, it makes you feel really good. It makes you love Chicago.”
This opening was first reported by Block Club Chicago.
Beard & Belly and Honeypie Bakery, 6155-57 N. Broadway Street, Open for pickup 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday through Sunday.