When two-time James Beard semi-finalist Kendal Duque joined Mainstay Hospitality in 2010 to reinvigorate the restaurant group’s South Loop spot Chicago Firehouse, there was talk the former Sepia chef would eventually open his own concept with Mainstay.
A year and a half later, Duque is doing just that, working with proprietor Matthew O’Malley to launch City Tavern later this month just down the street at 1416 S. Michigan Ave. in the space that used to house Grace O'Malley's.
“We just feel that now is the right time, being that the Firehouse is successful and strong,” he said. “It’s time to put our handprint on a new project.”
Duque says the concept is “a fresh take on taverns of old,” a warm, comfortable neighborhood place with a seasonally driven menu and a wide selection of craft beer, wine and cocktails. While Duque’s food at Chicago Firehouse is geared toward the restaurant’s upscale steakhouse ambiance, he said City Tavern will be more of a reflection of his personality and skills – “the kind of place that I would want to go myself.”
In addition to a handful of specials each day, expect seasonal dishes inspired by what’s at the markets. Duque is particularly excited about his walleye pike with wild mushrooms, pea tendrils, artichokes and a cashew vinaigrette, as well as his simply grilled Berkshire pork chop served in a sauce of its own juices with a green apple and wild arugula salad. No dish will exceed $20.
“We really believe that quality and value can coexist,” Duque explained. “We take liberty with a chef’s touch just to give [the food] enough uniqueness and personality, without having too many ingredients involved. By balancing that, we can definitely control our costs and give the guest a quality-driven product at an affordable price.”
The 100-seat restaurant and bar will have an “18th-century design updated for today’s comfort,” with Revolution-era touches such as sconces, gas lights, dark woods, a fireplace, deep-blue wallpaper with gold touches, and chairs and tabletops that reinforce the theme.
City Tavern will open at 4 p.m. every day; the kitchen will stay open until 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Duque will remain involved at Chicago Firehouse when City Tavern opens later this month.