The co-owner of Attagirl in Logan Square has a response to anyone with questions about the restaurant’s color scheme.
“It’s pink because we think pink is cute, not because pink is gay,” says Bunny, who’s also Attagirl’s culinary director.
Fans of Cafe Marie-Jeanne will recognize Bunny, who served as chef at the Humboldt Park restaurant, an all-day cafe popular with locals and members of the service industry. The restaurant closed in 2020 during the pandemic and formed long lines for one last meal. Fans still proudly sport CMJ T-shirts which could be spotted around Logan Square and Humboldt Park.
For Attagirl, Bunny partnered with Matt Sussman at nearby Table, Donkey, and Stick. Sussman says they’re working on Attagirl shirts, perhaps featuring the restaurant’s frolicking bunny logo.
Bunny, the former CMJ chef and co-owner, moved to Springfield, Missouri after CMJ’s closure in winter 2020. They never thought they’d return to Chicago. But when things didn’t work out (“It was hard to make money there,” Bunny says), Bunny came back and worked as a bartender at Table, Donkey, and Stick: “I really liked the work culture — Matt was something I really trusted,” Bunny says.
And with that, it’s a mistake to call Bunny the chef. Their culinary fingerprints are all over the menu, but the restaurant’s proper chef is Dia Pedroza who worked with Bunny at Cafe Marie-Jeanne. Placing trust in a staff is key — including giving them room to critique the operation. Sussman attributes any compliments to his own work experience when he started at restaurants.
“I think I had to trust people because I basically didn’t know how to do anything,” he says. “I baked bread well and knew how to do math; I didn’t really know the first thing about running a restaurant.”
At Attagirl, they’ve brought back the oysters, burgers, and duck frites — many of Cafe Marie-Jeanne’s classics. The fries have been tweaked; they’re slightly thicker cut. Not quite steak fries in terms of girth. The result is a crispy exterior with a creamy interior that might be the best french fry in Chicago. The small adjustment has unlocked a world of deliciousness and the duck frites are already the restaurant’s No. 1 seller, often running out midday. Other items, say CMJ’s Chicago-style lobster roll, could be coming in the future.
With a large bar in the new space, Sussman and Bunny have more real estate to offer creative drinks. There’s more wine with Sussman bringing his love of wines from small producers in Europe. He says he is working on incorporating more regions and including domestic selections. They’ve also been working on a creative cocktails to help fuel a late-night happy hour. Though they’re open for weekend brunch, where Sussman’s breadmaking comes in handy on a delectable breakfast sandwich, Attagirl differs from CMJ as it’s not an all-day affair. That helps Bunny retain some work-life balance.
Sussman and Bunny hold a mutual respect for each as both sweat the details and aren’t afraid of work. Deploying old-world techniques may take longer, but for both of them — whether it’s baking bread or making charcuterie — time-intensive processes are worth it.
Still, part of Cafe Marie-Jeanne’s demise was due to burnout as an all-day cafe. Bunny says they demanded too much of staff, and sometimes treated employees poorly, in a gnarly, old-school way that many restaurant workers experienced — it was money and product focused: “And we really didn’t make money ever there, we just worked people really hard,” Bunny says.
In July 2022, Bunny began popping up at Long Room in Irving Park, cooking a few special menus. They say that it was just about survival mode and making money. It was prep work to open a restaurant, something Sussman had to push after Dos Urban Cantina closed and a space opened up.
Attagirl can be a family-friendly restaurant for brunch during weekends, and a spot for folks to get a late-night burger while enjoying a drink. It’s important for Bunny and Sussman to serve different community needs. Interwoven into the restaurant is Bunny’s mission to create an inclusive space, hiring folks from LGBTQ communities. They acknowledge that was also the mission at Cafe Marie-Jeanne, but some folks felt more included than others. The food, space, and drinks are nice, but are nothing if workers “of all spectrums of ‘people-ness’” don’t feel affirmed: “You can’t have any of that without people; that’s the only way you get that,” Bunny says.
The mission is also about increasing access to better paying jobs, education surrounding food and beverage, and opening a restaurant where folks living in any of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods would feel comfortable partying.
“Me — being transgender and sort of varying on the spectrum… I can’t have a business that’s not queer,” Bunny says.
Check out more of the menu in the photos below.
Attagirl, 2828 W. Armitage Avenue, opened 5 p.m. to midnight daily, until 10 p.m. on Sundays; brunch 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.on weekends; brunch 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays; closed on Tuesdays.