Nearly seven months after launching Lardon, the all-day salumeria and cafe that’s already earned a loyal following, a fledgling Chicago restaurant group is preparing to unveil its second venue. Union, the new American restaurant and beer bar from chef Chris Thompson (Coda di Volpe) and Steve Lewis of Meadowlark Hospitality, will be a love letter to Logan Square that features many of the city’s lauded breweries alongside a creative and technical dinner menu. It’s scheduled to debut in mid-March at 2202 N. California Avenue, next door to its sister restaurant.
Despite its proximity to Lardon, Union will offer a markedly different atmosphere. “Union is moodier and darker — it’s the nighttime hangout,” says Lewis. “My inspiration for this has been the culture that lives within the London pub scene. At its heart, it’s a community epicenter.”
Both Logan Square residents, the partners have a personal investment in creating a special experience for their friends and neighbors. Considered one of neighborhoods for dining in the city, Logan Square is home to heavy hitters like local farm-to-table pioneer Lula Cafe, lauded Mexican restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería, and Alpine-style smoked meats spot Flat & Point. That means a customer base primed for creativity and depth — a challenge that Thompson finds exciting.
“We know the climate in Logan Square,” he says. “We understand what kind of game we need to bring to exist in this neighborhood and we don’t take that lightly. It’s motivating to know who your peers are and what people expect when they go out.”
Chief among those expectations — understandably, given the city’s renowned brewing industry — is a vibrant selection of local beers. Lewis is eager to champion his favorite brewers in Logan Square, Chicago, and the Midwest at large and plans to change up the offerings seasonally. Early offerings will include heavy, winter-friendly submissions such as Off Color’s Coffee Dino’Smores imperial stout and 5 Rabbit’s 5 Vulture Oaxacan-style dark ale plus IPAs, sours, saisons and more.
Tucked inside a 110-year-old building on California Avenue and Palmer Street that Lewis and his team painstakingly repaired, Union is designed to reject escapism — a common strategy in hospitality — and instead emphasize its Midwestern sensibilities. Outfitted with brass fixtures, brushed metal draft taps, and exposed brick walls, it seats 15 people on stools around a dark wood bar and around 30 more around several large tables and in four wooden booths. Bar patrons can expect 24 draft beers and an extensive whiskey selection displayed on custom geometric metal shelving.
Despite beer’s outsized role at Union, Thompson vigorously emphasizes that the restaurant is not a “gastropub” — a term that can evoke images of deep-fried cheese curds and goo-laden piles of nachos. Instead, he’ll present a new American menu that occasionally shares some of the cured meats from next door but strives to assert its own distinct culinary identity. A pan-roasted black cod (white wine, butter, haricot vert, root vegetables), for example, comes with a rich pancetta broth made from pork skin removed from the belly after six months of curing at Lardon. Other items will include a wood-grilled romanesco (almond piquillo sauce, mint, chilis) and a rotating tartine that will change with the seasons.
For Thompson, who lives about two blocks away from the restaurant, inspiration always comes back to the locals who keep neighborhood restaurant culture thriving in the city. “There’s so much great food in Chicago because people are daring diners,” says Thompson. “The diners’s aptitude and the chef’s aptitude — one lifts the other and allows them both to rise to the top.”
Union, 2202 N. California Avenue, Scheduled to open in mid March.