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An All-Day Cafe With a Chef’s Counter Is Coming to West Town

Nettare wants to give its bar program the farm-to-table treatment

Coming Attractions
Both food and cocktails will star at Nettare.

A 45-seat all-day restaurant that morphs from a morning cafe to an evening dining spot with a five-seat chef’s counter is coming this fall to West Town. Nettare will channel Italian and Mediterranean influences through a Midwestern perspective. This ode to Great Lakes farming should open in late September or early October in West Town.

Conner O’Byrne is a first-time restaurant owner and a veteran bartender who’s worked at Cassati’s in Lincoln Park, Publican, and La Josie in West Loop. He and executive chef John Dahlstrom will work in tandem to feature and cross-utilize the most local, of-the-season ingredients from game birds and stone fruit to whiskeys and liqueurs. The restaurant’s name, also the Italian word for nectar is meant to invoke “ambrosia, a wholesome and positive feeling,” O’Byrne says. “We’re not doing health food by any standard, but [rather], whole foods done fresh and well.”

Italian and Mediterranean cuisine work well in the Midwest as restaurants like Rose Mary and Daisies have proved in recent years. However, O’Byrne believes the restaurant world’s fixation on seasonality and regionality never quite took root in the bar industry (excluding the beer world) which is understandable given that many bar products are shelf-stable. But that means that customers don’t necessarily know regionally grown spirits, even as independent producers like Chicago’s Judson & Moore Distillery and Minnesota’s Far North Spirits are embracing the wine-associated notion of terroir. Both drink and food menus are not yet finalized, but Nettare’s Midwestern ethos could manifest in options like Corn & Whiskey, made with a tea of steeped corn husks, and A Dirty Martini with potato vodka and pickle brine.

Dahlstrom, previously of BLVD Steakhouse and Table, Donkey, and Stick, met O’Byrne “the old-fashioned way” — that is to say, through an online job posting. Dahlstrom recently returned from a stint as chef de cuisine at Brush Creek Ranch resort in Wyoming, and the pair hit it off immediately over their shared interest in local agriculture. “I’m a Midwestern guy, so one of the things [O’Byrne] originally liked were the relationships I have with a lot of farmers,” Dahlstrom says. “I’ve been fortunate to cultivate those connections throughout my time [in Chicago] with the wonderful people I’ve worked under, and to spread the wealth of their knowledge.”

Design to accompany cocktails rather than follow them, the dinner menu will include a selection of composed dishes starring Midwestern fruits, vegetables, game meats, and fish alongside a lineup of snacks and charcuterie — think fried giardiniera sticks and local smelts that Dahlstrom brines and marinates like boquerones to be served with focaccia. O’Byrne had originally floated the idea of Spanish anchovies and lit the spark that would become Dahlstrom’s regional smelt twist. “That exemplifies what we’re shooting for,” says Dahlstrom. “There’s a lot of collaboration and conversation around food and drink.”

A Florida native, O’Byrne and his family first conceived the business during the early pandemic in 2020, evolving it over time from a retail-focused spot to a restaurant and adjoining market. Workers entirely gutted the space, previously home to 8-year-old Italian restaurant Trattoria Ultimo, 1953 W. Chicago Avenue, to create a sunny dining room designed by Project Interiors (also behind the design at Billy Dec’s Underground Cocktail Club in River North).

Inspired by a courtyard, the space includes three large skylights embedded in 12-foot ceilings, as well as an open kitchen and a five-seat chef’s counter where patrons can score special off-the-menu dishes. Wood paneling and lime-washed brick walls, along with an abundance of greenery, unite the dining room with the adjacent 400-square-foot market with a handful of seats and daytime grab-and-go counter service for pastries, cups of coffee, and tea from Rare Tea Cellar.

Stay tuned for more details as the project progresses.

Nettare, 1953 W. Chicago Avenue, Scheduled to open in late September or early October.