Bellemore, the West Loop restaurant on the corner of Randolph and Jefferson streets, where chef Jimmy Papadopoulos wowed diners with decadent dishes such as oyster pie topped with caviar is no more. The space, silent for months since the pandemic began, will soon welcome a new and more casual restaurant from the same ownership. Boka Restaurant Group has announced Alla Vita, a “neighborhood Italian-American restaurant,” is set for a mid-summer opening at 564 W. Randolph Street.
“We want everybody,” says Boka chef Lee Wolen. “It’s for families, it’s for tourism, it’s for young adults and old adults. This restaurant is for everybody.”
Wolen, chef at Boka’s flagship in Lincoln Park, has developed Alla Vita’s menu with an emphasis on family-style offerings that encouraging sharing, a practice frowned up during the height of the pandemic. The menu will have five to seven pastas, selections like a vegetarian lasagna with wild mushrooms and ricotta; and a squid-ink pasta with spicy tomatoes, calamari, and Parmesan-garlic breadcrumbs. Boka’s ricotta dumplings will also appear on the menu.
There’a also excitement about the salad service, where servers will tote giant bowls of chopped salads that can be shared for groups as large as six.
“I think everybody missed going out and eating with friends and family family style,” Wolen says.
Boka, a James Beard Award-winning hospitality group, does not have an Italian restaurant within its holdings that include chef Stephanie Izard’s Goat restaurants, Swift & Sons steakhouse and Momotaro Japanese. Wolen says Boka has been considering opening an Italian restaurant well before the pandemic began. As the Tribune points out, Balena, a joint venture with B. Hospitality Group, that closed due to fire in 2017, was Boka’s last Italian restaurant. Wolen says Alla Vita is a fresh start from Balena; there won’t be any menu holdovers.
Beyond Wolen, Boka is pulling together its staff. Boka pastry chef Meg Galus is handling desserts and breads. Boka sommelier Kimberlee Beeler is writing the wine list and beverage director Anna Thorn is doing cocktails. Presumably, Thorn will offer some patio pounders for Alla Vita’s sidewalk seating.
The interiors will be spruced up by Tom Kehoe. During the pandemic, the general public may have been introduced to Kehoe Designs at outdoor plant sales held in Wicker Park and West Loop. They’re also known for private event design.
Boka opened Bellemore in 2017, and despite critical praise, the luxurious menu wasn’t designed to translate to carryout and delivery. Takeout featuring more casual fare has allowed some restaurants to stay afloat with COVID-19 halting indoor dining. Boka has kept its Lincoln Park restaurant open with takeout and they’ve unfurled GG’s Chicken Shop, the ghost kitchen that resides within the Michelin-starred restaurant. GG’s specializes in fried chicken. Wolen is using that expertise by serving chicken Parmesan at Alla Vita. Don’t look for a veal variant, but Wolen says vegetarians could be treated to an eggplant version.
Alla Vita’s menu is carryout friendly — the kitchen’s wood-burning oven will crank out the lord of all comfort foods. Five to six pizzas available daily and they’ll be more in the neo-neapolitan style with crunchy bottoms.
Lately, the restaurant industry has been consumed by labor challenges. It’s a complicated topic with restaurant owners saying they’re struggling to find workers. Wolen says conditions are improving and that the new restaurant will be able to overcome any staffing issues.
“I think you’ve got to get rid of the negative at this point,” Wolen says. “It’s been a hell of a year — it’s been rough and tough. I think it’s time to be optimistic. Let’s enjoy the summer.”
Alla Vita, 564 W. Randolph Street, planned for a mid-summer opening.