MONEYGUN, the recently reopened cocktail bar that gives off a nostalgic West Loop vibe, a feeling that predates the arrivals of Starbucks, McDonald’s, and now a boozy Taco Bell, has a surprise at sibling neighborhood spot Saint Lou’s Assembly: Chef Zach Engel, the engine behind mega-hit Galit in Lincoln Park, reworked the menu.
Engel, a James Beard Award-winner for his work at Shaya in New Orleans, has integrated Middle Eastern ingredients into Southern-style backyard treats at Lou’s Backyard — the first-come, first serve covered outdoor space formerly known as St. Lou’s back porch.
The new menu draws on his background as a Southern Jew (originally from Orlando, Florida) and Middle Eastern chef, but there’s nothing kosher about his offerings. There’s grilled oysters with harissa and butter, a crawfish boil-inspired chicken shawarma (button mushrooms, onion, corn), and fried pickles with labneh ranch for dipping. Other creations include tahini soft-serve with pecan praline and bananas foster and a schmaltzy biscuits with pepper jelly and county ham.
“Growing up Jewish in the South, I always felt Southern in a lot of ways. My family kept a semi-kosher home, even if we’d go out for barbecue or seafood in the Delta,” Engel says.
Under Jewish dietary laws, pork and shellfish — foundational components of Southern cooking — are forbidden. The contradiction is one that’s familiar to Engel. Despite surface-level differences, Engel sees a strong connection between the seemingly incongruous culinary cultures.
“There’s a love of life and food and company in the South that also aligns with how Jews eat food festively — that’s where they line up really well,” Engel says.
For managing partner Bruce Finkelman of hospitality group 16” On Center, Engel’s stint opens up a world of possibilities. He hopes to forge partnerships with other local chefs. The short-term gig also could be an opportunity for cooks to make some extra money on the side.
“We want to have interesting people come in and do menus for the season, have them do stuff they’re interested in but can’t or don’t do currently, and give them a slate to be creative and put out something they’re excited about,” Finkelman says.
MONEYGUN beverage director Donovan Mitchem is complementing the food with summery drinks like a New Orleans-inspired frozen Hurricane (Mount Gay Black Barrel, cinnamon-infused Brugal Extra Dry, passion fruit, lime), a Sarsaparilla Sazerac (bourbon, sarsaparilla, Peychaud’s, absinthe) and St. Lou’s popular frosé.
Engel’s residency started May 8 and lasts until winter forces the restaurant to close the patio for the season.
Lou’s Backyard, 664 W. Lake Street, Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.