Breakfast was never just a meal for Racquel Fields. While growing up in Chicago’s South Side, it was an event — a daily communion where her entire family gathered in her great-grandmother’s giant house in Englewood to get the day started right with the most important meal of the day.
Since her family was from the South, by way of Louisiana and Tennessee, that meant southern comfort and soul food: heaps of homemade biscuits slathered with thick gravy, sweet rolls slathered with butter, or even fried chicken, catfish, and pork belly if it was closer to brunch.
“My family and I can tell you that we’re lovers of breakfast and brunch,” Fields says. “It was the meal that we almost always had together.”
The restaurateur behind the Caribbean-inspired 14 Parish never lost her passion for the meal. Now she wants to bring some of the flavors and staples from her family to Dawn, a Southern brunch restaurant in Hyde Park pegged to open in June.
The menu will boast soul food staples like fried catfish, grits, and fried green tomatoes along with a smattering of down-home breakfast favorites like waffles, french toast, potatoes, bacon, and eggs. Those wishing to nurse a weekend hangover can also expect a menu of cocktails.
However, Fields said that the kitchen is going to go beyond what you might expect from a traditional Southern eatery — and certainly won’t shy away from embracing new dishes and trends.
“I think it’s important to have a food identity, but I really appreciate the things that come with trends and waves with food and cuisine,” Fields says. “So there will be a Southern half to it — but that’s not all you’ll see from the menu.”
According to Fields, this might mean avocado toast, bacon flights, and homemade pastries with “really fun, innovative waffle or french toast combinations.” The menu is also going to make a nod to the former occupants of Dawn’s location: Piccolo Mondo, the Italian Hyde Park institution that closed its doors after 37 years on Nov. 27.
It’s big shoes to fill — but Fields says she has the blessing and support of Piccolo Mondo’s former owner Noberto Zas and his family. Now, she wants to be able to pay homage to the location while carving out Dawn’s own mark in the Hyde Park community.
“With permission from the owners of Piccolo Mondo, we’d love to learn a bit more about what they offered, being a staple in Hyde Park for 37 years,” Fields says. “Noberto Zas and his wife are phenomenal, fantastic people that have been super helpful with us and letting us know the nuances of the new space.”
She adds: “So they might be okay with sharing an old recipe with us that we can still keep on the menu for those people who have a great love for Piccolo Mondo.”
Dawn will join its sibling restaurant 14 Parish just a few blocks away — a decision that Fields says is “an ideal space” due to its proximity to the Museum of Science and Industry as well as the upcoming Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park across the street. It’ll also help with her plans for future collaborations between the two restaurants. “We do plan to bring over a little bit of intersection and respect from our home, which is 14 Parish, to Dawn” she says.
While the location was a draw, she says the biggest thing for her was what she sees as the community’s willingness to embrace new types of cuisines and food experiences.
“[Hyde Park] has the bandwidth to accept another type of cuisine,” she explains. “The residents get excited about the food that is around. People from all over Chicago come to hang out and eat in Hyde Park. It’s right off Lake Shore Drive. It’s right across the street from where the lake is and the beaches during the summertime.”
That sense of community and identity is the bedrock of what Fields wants Dawn to grow into a spot that’s fun and vibrant, but as comfortable and welcoming as your great-grandmother’s kitchen table while you have a delicious, soul-nurturing breakfast with your family.
“It’s a very beautiful area with great residents who are always open to different types of flavors, different styles,” she says. “Hyde Park is just an overall vibe. I love it here.”
Dawn, 1642 E 56th Street No. 11 in Hyde Park, scheduled to open in June