Three accomplished Chicago chefs who have worked in Michelin-starred kitchens will soon open an all-day cafe and wine bar in Bucktown with morning pastries, Old World-style natural wines, and an ever-changing European-influenced menu.
“This stretch of Damen has really great restaurants but doesn’t have a cafe and we’re trying to be that neighborhood spot where you can go to any time of day,” says Ashlee Aubin “We’re here to be your third place.”
Pompette, French slang for “just a little tipsy,” comes from Aubin, known for his work at Alinea, Wood, and Salero, Katie Wasielewski (Pub Royale), and Aaron Patten (Acadia, Moody Tongue) to open their latest project in the former home of cozy Japanese sake den Izakaya Mita. The restaurant will debut Friday, October 7 at 1960 N. Damen Avenue, Izakaya Mita closed in February following the death of co-owner and chef Brian Mita.
The crew has transformed the intimate 1,800-square-foot izakaya into a multi-faceted space with a takeout counter serving coffee and pastries, a new marble-topped cement tile bar, a full-service dining room for lunch and dinner, and a section for retail items
Chef Patten says the menu will be fluid with French and Italian influences. The opening menu includes smoked salmon blinis topped with creme fraiche, giardiniera, everything spice, and trout roe. Some items will also come off a Big Green Egg barbecue, such as lamb brochette with garlic pita and cucumber-red onion salad; as well as black sea bass featuring smashed white beans, leeks, artichoke, and Swiss chard. Over the years, the partners have developed strong relationships with area farmers, whose produce will in many ways determine the menu.
“We definitely aren’t ascribing to one type of country or region, but stuff that pairs well with wine and can be easily shared by a group of people,” Patten says. “That’s the kind of dining we like — going out with friends and ordering a bunch of things. It’s always the best type of dining experience.”
The trio first met in 2012 when Aubin opened Wood in Northalsted (formerly Boystown) and hired Wasielewski and Patten to work in the kitchen. They also joined him two years later at Solero, his Spanish restaurant on the West Loop’s Randolph Row. They formed a close bond over those years and remained friends after moving on to other jobs. Conversations about their “dream restaurant” evolved from the theoretical to a real-world plan — one where they could hold onto the aspects they appreciated in prior positions and move away from some harmful aspects of restaurant culture, a conceit that proliferated through the early years of the pandemic in Chicago’s hospitality industry.
“We’ve always pushed ourselves and each other to be better,” Wasielewski says. “After COVID, we realized that the culture of the restaurant needed to change. We’re trying to implement better ideals of what we can do to help each other out physically and mentally.”
Wine will also loom large at Pompette, with Aubin taking off his chef’s hat to serve as general manager in his restaurant role outside the kitchen. His selections dwell primarily on structured Old World styles from France, Italy, Spain, and Germany, and while all fall under the broad category of natural wine (cultivated with no additives and limited manipulation by the winery), he’s hesitant to use the term to avoid misconceptions. “People [tend to] think about the very funky expressions of natural wine,” he says. “Every wine [on the menu] is natural, but just a bit more classic in style.”
He’ll work in tandem with bar manager Margaret Warren, formerly lead bartender at Table, Donkey, and Stick in Logan Square. She’ll also work with chefs for components like seasonal pickles for Bloody Marys and tahini-washed amaro. She’ll also lean toward lighter low-AVB cocktails like a green tea soda spritz in the morning and erring on the side of strong and boozy options at night, supplemented with fortified wines, brandies, vermouths, and amaros.
Pompette, 1960 N. Damen Avenue, Scheduled to open Friday, October 7.