The South Loop is the home for one of the most anticipated Chicago restaurant openings of the year, as Apolonia has finally welcomes diners Friday near McCormick Place Convention Center. Chef and owner Stephen Gillanders hopes his second restaurant endears itself to locals while enticing residents who don’t live in the neighborhood to stop by and try items such as a jumbo-sized chicken Kiev for two (that’s still in development), smoked-kissed proteins like Berkshire pork presse, and fresh pastas like scallop tagliatelle.
Gillanders planned to open Apolonia last year, but the pandemic had other ideas. Wintrust Arena — home of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky — is a two-minute walk from Apolonia, and Gillanders hopes to serve event and convention center crowds. His first restaurant, S.K.Y., opened in 2017 in Pilsen and has become a destination. Prior to that, the chef managed Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ Intro Chicago in Lincoln Park and worked with renown chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten on several restaurants.
The restaurant’s named for the chef’s grandmother and centers on European and Mediterranean cuisine. Before Intro Chicago — a concept with a revolving menu, akin to Next — Lettuce operated L20, the beloved seafood restaurant from chef Laurent Gras.
The connections continue as L20 alum Joseph Spretnjak will serve as Apolonia’s chef du cuisine. He’ll helm the kitchen on most days as Gillanders remains the chef at Somerset, the restaurant in side the Viceroy Chicago hotel in Gold Coast. They’ve also hired Marta Suchocka (Girl & the Goat) as general manager. Sommelier Jelena Prodan has also stocked a large selection of vermouth and created fun cocktails. Some garnishes will utilize the kitchen’s wood-burning grill.
Gillanders’ wife, Seonkeung Yuk — her initials spell out the name of the Pilsen restaurant — designed the 5,300-square-foot space to give it a bright, airy, and modern feel. The space is new construction with 18-foot wall ceilings, large arches, and hallways. There’s also a private dining room which should be handy when McCormick Place again welcomes shows and conventions.
Walk through the space below and read the menu below. It’s been a long road to Apolonia, but the South Loop restaurant has finally arrived.