A friend of mine called the other day to tell me how much she liked a new restaurant and saloon in Waldo. "I've been telling all my friends that they just have to go to Recovery."
She may well have friends who need to go into recovery (who doesn't?), but the actual name of the place she likes is Remedy Food + Drink. Atit Patel and Aaron Michaelis should consider calling their next venue Recovery — a great name for a fresh juice bar, I say — but the owners of Remedy Food + Drink are strictly focused on this project, a Chicago-style gastropub.
Now, a dozen people have tried in recent years to explain to me the concept of a gastropub, all without success. So when I heard that someone had opened one meant to be "Chicago style," I almost had to check into recovery myself. But Patel, a former investment banker, distills the concept with reassuring succinctness. "It's a bar that puts a serious focus on the food," he tells me. "It's not just cheeseburgers and french fries."
There are cheeseburgers and fries here: beautiful, crisp, hand-cut fries. There are even corn dogs. But chef Max Watson's corn dog isn't state-fair food. His menu's version is a chubby, finger-length frankfurter, handmade and dipped in a feathery cornmeal batter, then deep-fried and served with a punchy concoction of stone-ground mustard and honey.
Watson, formerly of Room 39 and Port Fonda, is just 27, and he's about to show a little youthful restlessness with an October menu remodel. He says quite a few things are coming off the list, but not the big sellers: those appetizer-sized corn dogs, the eggplant fries and the deviled eggs. His fried chicken is staying put, too. The restaurant opened in June, but Watson already understands his customer base. "Some of them are serious foodies who want to know where every ingredient comes from," he says. "Others just want a sandwich and a beer."
Not all that long ago, pretty much everyone who stepped into this ecologically friendly, glass box building wanted a sandwich and a brew — hold the sandwich. For many years, this space was occupied by a popular neighborhood bar and grill called Kennedy's, which was never noted for its cuisine. When Patel and Michaelis bought the business, they decided that this stretch of Waldo already had plenty of traditional saloons serving familiar saloon food. They were right: Waldo didn't need another Kennedy's. So they consulted Room 39's Ted Habiger and Andy Sloane, who proposed a limited, stylish menu made with locally sourced produce and meats.
The best idea that Habiger and Sloane sold to Remedy's owners was to hire Max Watson, a former Room 39 sous chef and a man with a lot of big ideas. Even if some of those ideas — Sunday brunch is one — are on the back burner.
"Max is eager to start that project," Patel says. "Brunch is his favorite meal of the day, and he loved making it at Room 39. The problem on 75th Street is, we don't have enough food storage space yet. Our kitchen area is very, very small."
It's big enough for the popular sous vide "water oven," which cooks food in plastic submerged in a hot-water bath. It's the hourlong soak in the sous vide that permits Watson to prepare one of the most unusual meatless creations in this beef-loving town.
"We wanted at least one vegetarian entrée," Watson explains. "And since Atit is very influenced by the culinary pubs he visited in Chicago, I checked menus in that city to get inspiration."