BUCKTOWN — A cozy American and Latin-inspired casual restaurant led by a Bucktown chef and caterer originally from Brazil is coming to the northeast corner of Armitage and Damen avenues in December.
Described by Downing as “gooey and amazing” on the inside and crispy on the outside, the ball-shaped bread will be complimentary and delivered to tables as folks wait for their food.
“My husband is obsessed with them. As a little ‘hi’ to the neighborhood, we want to offer pão de queijo to people,” Downing said.
Located at 1954 W. Armitage Ave., Gigi’s Kitchen plans to open on Wednesday, Dec. 5, Downing said.
The new venture replaces AMK Kitchen, which opened in 2015 and closed over the summer.
At her home in Bucktown, Downing keeps five chickens in a coop and tends to a vegetable and herb garden. She envisions Gigi’s Kitchen to be an extension of her personal kitchen, where people can “feel cozy, in a casual environment.”
The interior of the restaurant will be “very playful, fresh and bright, using a lot of natural wood and greenery,” Downing said.
“It will look like a nice bright day in Brazil. At home, it’s how I like my own house,” Downing said.
Downing relocated to Chicago from Brazil when she was 20 and recently shifted from the business to culinary world. She described her dishes as “American with Latin flair,” combining elements like garlic sauce and seasonal vegetables such as pomegranates and squash. Her house-made flat breads will be cooked in a wood burning oven.
“I am Brazilian and like my meats and burgers and all those things. … We will have Brazilian steak and salmon and chicken, as well as ratatouille,” Downing said.
Her variation of the classic French vegetable stew dish will combine a rich tomato base with peppers, eggplant, zucchini and squash, along with creamy goat cheese in the middle. The ratatouille will be served with fresh bread.
Open for lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch, Gigi’s Kitchen will offer space for 68 patrons through a mix of booths, family-style farm tables and a counter.
On the weekends, Brazilian punch bowls and house made bloody Mary’s will be available during brunch.
In addition to the dine-in restaurant, Gigi’s Kitchen will offer a rotating weekly family meal, available for delivery or takeout only. One example would be a roasted chicken with ratatouille, a dessert and salad, with an option of adding a paired bottle of wine or a growler. The meal would be designed to feed four people.
Another element of Gigi’s Kitchen that Downing is determined to bring to fruition once the restaurant is up and running successfully will be offering her cooking skills and use of the restaurant’s kitchen to survivors of trauma and domestic violence.
When she was working in business and serving as a behavioral health coordinator — linking up women to physicians and counselors to help coordinate services — Downing said she wished there was something like an Inspiration Kitchens specifically for women who’re recovering from violent and traumatic situations. The Inspiration Kitchens nonprofit helps homeless folks in East Garfield Park by serving as a cooking school, caterer and job incubator, with a restaurant onsite.
“My end goal vision of building this Gigi brand, when I have the catering company and restaurant established, is to open up the kitchen for women to learn to cook, along with connecting them to counseling, legal and mental health services. That’s the mission behind Gigi’s,” Downing said.