En Passant was poised to open its doors more than a year ago and join hits like Fat Rice, Superkhana International, and Cellar Door Provisions along a killer stretch of restaurants on Diversey, a path leading from Logan Square toward Avondale.
Chef Sam Engelhardt brought a strong reputation. He was the chef nine years ago when Au Cheval opened on Randolph Restaurant Row and had a hand in creating hits including that cheeseburger that led Hogsalt to spinning off a restaurant chain (Small Cheval) based on the item. As most accomplished chefs don’t like being known for a simple burger, En Passant was a divergence. En Passant is also Engelhardt’s first restaurant, and he’s enjoyed the additional freedom in designing the space and creating the menu.
The pandemic altered plans and Engelhardt would have to wait for his opportunity as 13 months later —in April — he finally welcomed patrons into the rustic dining room at 3010 W. Diversey Avenue with a menu of hearty dishes with international influences like chicken milanese (capers, lemon, parsley) and gai lan (bacalao, garlic, preserved lemon). Though there’s obvious French influence, Engelhardt reluctantly calls the menu “global comfort food.”
“I’ve been struggling with how to describe it to people, so come in and try it,” he says. “Tell me what you think it is.”
He’ll rotate some seasonal items on and off the menu, but plans to keep several foundational dishes year-round. Yes, there’s a “Super Smash Burger” (double-smash patty, balsamic onion jam, Marie Rose sauce, brioche), along with “Roasties” (Kennebec potatoes, Marie Rose sauce), and oatmeal cream pies (rolled oats, buttercream). Engelhardt has applied for a liquor license but in the meantime en Passant is BYOB, offering booze-free options at the seven-seat bar.
The 1,600-square-foot restaurant seats 39. Engelhardt designed and crafted much of the space himself and opted for dark wood furniture, textured walls, plus lots of clocks. One wall clock goes backward — a reference to the kind of timeless cooking and atmosphere he hopes to foster. He wants to create a lived-in feeling. “The last thing I wanted to do was have something polished or sterile.”
Engelhardt is a Chicago restaurant veteran (Longman & Eagle, Clever Rabbit, Kith & Kin) and worked as culinary director at Hogsalt Hospitality where his wife, Celia Perez, once worked as chief financial officer. While he was happy to have time to spend with his family during the pandemic, he was happy to bounce ideas developed in isolation off sous chef Zach Craig and front-of-house manager Joseph DeFalco. “For so long, you’re floating out there trying to figure out what’s going to work,” he says. “Finally have a team I can talk to, to stay focused and on the correct path.”
Explore the restaurant (named for a rare chess move) and dishes in the photos below.