Brass Heart, the tiny 20-seat restaurant which, through an ingenious tasting menu, brought an ambitious culinary voice to the North Side has closed after nearly five years.
The Uptown restaurant, which featured the work of ex-Schwa chef Norman Fenton for nearly three years, has closed at 4662 N. Broadway Street. Fenton addressed the closure Wednesday on Instagram. “It’s been a ride,” he writes. “Sad to see the doors close, but as the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. Excited for the future and to share an experience with you again.”
Founded in 2018 by owners Vincent Maiorano and Margaret Eisen, the duo hired chef Matt Kerney, previously of Longman & Eagle in Logan Square. Kerney moved to California during the pandemic, allowing Fenton to step in and carve out a new identity for the restaurant.
Fenton moved from Detroit to Chicago in 2016 to work at the Aviary with eyes on eventually landing at Alinea. Wanting more creative freedom, he would eventually exit for a cook’s position at Schwa, the Bucktown tasting menu restaurant founded by Michael Carlson. By 2018, he was promoted to Schwa’s chef de cuisine. He traveled to Mexico, where he met his wife. Beyond working at Brass Heart, he’s also the executive chef at Wild in Tulum, Mexico.
“I wish more people came and took the chance on sharing the experience with us,” Fenton says, adding: “We had a fantastic product but just not enough people.”
Schwa alums like Oriole’s Noah Sandoval and Entente’s Brian Fisher dined at Brass Heart, and Fenton says he’s thankful for the support within the restaurant community. But ultimately, Fenton says not enough people — members of the media and social media influencers included — gave Brass Heart took the opportunity to see how he had reinvented the restaurant.
The chef took pride in serving tasting menus to vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians, saying few restaurants serving food of this caliber accommodated customers to this extent. That made Brass Heart a treat for those with dietary restrictions.
Brass Heart took over the former home of 42 Grams, which shuttered in 2017. A special-occasion spot with just 20 seats, Brass Heart burst onto the city’s hospitality scene with a vegan tasting menu — a rare and bold move at the time — prompting a thunderous response from the dining public and optimism from critics. But the pandemic halted the momentum. The restaurant was lauded for its aggressive creativity and risk-taking approach. However, the powers that be at star-dispensing tire company Michelin omitted the restaurant from its lineup of Chicago recipients.
Just like its peers across the industry, Brass Heart rushed to transition to early pandemic life by experimenting with offsite fine dining. The team offered group takeout for socially distanced dinner parties, with customers picking up their dishes and then sharing a meal over Zoom. In August 2020, Kerney announced plans to decamp to California, making way for Fenton to take over.
The future of fine dining remains an open question in Chicago and across the U.S. as chefs and restaurateurs grapple with a cultural and economic landscape still in flux. The reality of this uncertain era for one of the most high-profile corners of the hospitality industry broke through to the general public in January when chef René Redzepi announced plans to close three-Michelin-star Noma, his Copenhagen venue dubbed the “world’s best restaurant” on numerous occasions. At the time, Redzepi told reporters that the fine-dining model that he helped create was no longer viable.
News of Brass Heart’s closure arrives nearly simultaneously with the announcement that Claudia, chef Trevor Teich’s fine dining restaurant in Bucktown, has ended its tenure after a year and a half. Fenton says Chicago’s appetite for fine dining remains, but Brass Heart just didn’t have enough gas to make it through the summer.
“June would have been a great month for us, honestly, we had tons of reservations coming in,” he says.
Fenton says he going to spend some time in Mexico and see his wife and children — they have an apartment in Cancun. He’s confident Chicago hasn’t seen the last of him.
“The story is to be continued, obviously there are some things in the works,” he says.