Glencoe’s new dining experience Guildhall opens
Guildhall Chef Christian Ragano, in the Glencoe restaurant's cooler. |Irv Leavitt ~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:31AM
Glencoe, a town with plenty of fine dining money, is finally getting a place to spend it.
Tuesday afternoon, March 19, a gleaming new restaurant called Guildhall opens at 694 Vernon Ave.
Its construction has transformed, improbably, the Wienecke’s Hardware building, which still bears a sign displaying the illuminated name of the village’s most storied dispensary of wrenches, grass seed and toilet plungers.
To at least one person, it makes all the sense in the world that Glencoe’s big epicurean step forward would take place there. The youthful memories of Larry Levin, the presumptive next Glencoe village president, include both that still-famous hardware store and Little Jack’s, his family’s once-iconic restaurant on Chicago’s West Side.
“I think that it’s wonderful that we’re getting what you would call a white cloth restaurant,” Glencoe native Levin said.
“And one of the most wonderful things about it is that it’s in this famous place, Wienecke’s, where every Saturday everybody in Glencoe would come to buy a nut or a bolt or a toy and sit and talk. It was a gathering place, a wonderful place.”
He didn’t know it, but the concept of gathering was what drove Glencoe owners Alec Litowitz, founder of the Magnetar Capital hedge fund, and Eric Fosse, the HomeMade Pizza chain founder, to the surprise name of the restaurant.
Many, including Levin, had publicly assumed that because the restaurant’s corporation is called Taylorsport, LLC, the restaurant, too, would be known by the bygone traditional name associated with Glencoe, and Anson Taylor, its first non-native settler.
The owners decided to go instead with a name much more well-known in England.
Fosse said March 13 that the Guildhall name signaled an intention to convey the feeling of a guild, “an association of artisans and craftsmen, and a place to share and gather together. We also want (to reflect) the actors guild, and recognize the association with the Writers’ Theatre.”
He added that no synergies have yet been established between the eagerly-awaited restaurant and the famous local theater, now fundraising for its also much-anticipated new Glencoe building.
Chef Christian Ragano is so enthusiastic about the Guildhall concept that he plans on being tattooed with all the crests “of the three oldest guilds in the world, the butchers, bakers and fishmongers,” he said Friday.
Guilds, in England, were an amalgam of today’s trade unions, merchants’ associations and cartels, and were named for the gold they put up to defend themselves jointly in business.
Guildhall today is best known as the name of the massive, 600-year-old building that still houses the administration of the City of London, and the giant statues of London’s guardian monsters Gog and Magog.
More to the point, the Guildhall refers to the enormous great hall within the building. It has hosted some of the most significant trials in English history, contains memorials to famous Brits and seats up to 704 for dinner.
Fosse said his restaurant seats about 150. Ragano’s menu has no English entrees.
One of the new restaurant’s signature cocktails, however, is the Guildhall G+T, a mixture of “City of London Gin, Guildhall Tonic Syrup, and Lime.”
English influence seems to be confined to the Gin and Tonic, and a couple of appetizers, both containing English peas.
One is an $8 English pea soup, a bright-green bowl garnished with pea tendrils, with lemon oil and guanciale – an expensive, unsmoked Italian bacon made from pigs’ cheeks.
And for $13, there’s grilled quail, with the peas, an onion soubise (cream sauce), Bliss Elixir (made with vinegar derived from the aging process of maple syrup) and watercress (that’s English, too).
The menu is actually “American Bistro,” American with European — mostly French — influences and techniques.
“I think it’s really approachable,” Ragano said. “We tried not to intimidate anyone. Really simple food, flavor-forward, with a love for ingredients from Europe and the U.S.”
He said the star of the show is likely to be the wood-roasted half-chicken, accompanied by wild mushrooms, baby artichokes and potato puree ($19).
Options range from an appetizer of market-catch sashimi (currently hamachi), delicately fanned out and flavored with jalapeño and garnished with apple and citrus bits ($11), to the Guildhall Burger, a big house-ground hamburger sandwich with bacon and grilled onions on a pretzel bun ($16).
Many American favorites are featured: pork chops, trout, steak, rack of lamb. Most entree prices are $15 to $25, with the notable exception an aged ribeye steak for $46.
All four dinner salads are $11 or under and all six desserts are $12 or under.
A glass of wine is available for as little as $11, but the well-heeled can spend as much as $399 for a bottle of 2006 Vega Sicilia.
More than two dozen beers range to $37 (for a 25-ounce Danish brew), but most are under $7.
For now, the restaurant will be only open for dinner: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Sometime later this year, perhaps summer, Guildhall will be ready for lunch and Sunday brunch.