WEST LOOP — After spending nearly two years working to bring the Politan Row food hall to the West Loop, Will Donaldson admits there’s some butterflies on the eve of its highly anticipated opening.
“When there’s a culmination of 18 months to two years of work, your hands are going to shake a little bit,” said Donaldson, founder and CEO of Politan Group. “I’ve got some nerves … but I’m excited.”
On Saturday, Donaldson’s new food hall featuring an eclectic mix from 19 local chefs, a bar and an outdoor German beer garden will officially open inside McDonald’s Headquarters at 111 N. Aberdeen St.
When diners step into Politan Row, they’ll find food options from some familiar names like Tolita from Cafe Tola chef and owner Victoria Salamanca, Smashed Radish by Sarah Weitz and Sam Barron of the beloved food truck Fat Shallot, and Floriole from Sandra Holl.
Chef Lawrence Letrero and Raquel Quadreny — the husband wife team behind popular Cuban and Filipino eatery Bayan Ko in Ravenswood — will also have a spot. The couple is offering cuban cuisine at their Politan Row counter Clave.
Letrero said that while there are some good Cuban restaurants around the city, he still feels the Cuban cuisine is a “bit underrepresented” in the area, so he wanted to offer Clave as an option.
When guests step up to the counter, Letrero promises “high energy” and elevated Cuban fare with “soulful undertones.” Among the offerings are a Cuban sandwich, ropa vieja and croquetas.
Inspired by her mother-in-law’s cooking and a love for the cuisine, Chef Margaret Pak is bringing Southwest Indian street food with Thattu. The menu includes hearty Kerala curries, house-made appam and savory masala cookies.
“It’s so unlike any other parts of Indian cuisine,” Pak said. “It’s so diverse, I want people to experience this little gem.”
Other vendors rounding out the 11 food options include: Passion House Coffee, Yosi and Aviva Alhadif’s Israeli food LaShuk Street Food, Grey and Lauren Ingram’s gourmet hot dogs and specialty sausages Loud Mouth, Kelly Ijichi and Randi Howry’s Japanese comfort food Mom’s, Chris Reed’s Bumbu Roux’s, and Eric Hattori, Dan Hattori and Winston Feng’s Piko Street Kitchen.
Beverage director Sophie Burton, who previously worked at Big Star and Cindy’s, heads the Politan Bar and the summertime German beer garden Perle.
At Politan Bar, Burton said guests can expect “a little bit of comfort, a little bit of exploration and a little bit of challenge from the cocktail program.”
Cocktails will hearken to classics that people are familiar with like variations on the Manhattan or a play on a daiquiri, Burton said.
While Burton characterizes Politan Bar as a modern, forward thinking bar, she said it has a welcoming, approachable cocktail program.
“We are not going too far into the niche realm where you feel like you don’t understand the presentation of the cocktail that you won’t be able to drink it or eat it,” Burton said. “We are more low key.”
During summer months, Politan Row will offer a 140-seat German beer garden that takes inspiration from Brutalism, the Bauhaus art movement and New Wave music, Donaldson and Burton said.
Perle will offer seven draft beers including a hefeweizen and pilsner, as well as two German wines, Donaldson.
“All the beer… is German or German-inspired,” Burton said. Local breweries Off Color and Dovetail will also be served on the patio.
To go along with the Politan Bar and Perle, Donaldson promises a “banging happy hour.”
From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, guests at Politan Bar can grab select cocktails and wines for $7 and beer for $5. Perle will serve up $5 pilsners, $5 glasses of rosé and $7 pilsner radlers.
Politan Row will face competition when Fulton Galley’s food hall and bar open in the neighborhood next month. In addition, Time Out Market later this year will open an 18-eatery space featuring Brian Fisher of Michelin-winning Entente and Bill Kim of urbanbelly.
Donaldson believes the high-caliber chefs offering diverse cuisine, the food hall’s hospitality focus and the welcoming environment will bring a following.
“We want to create spaces that are inviting and simultaneously inviting,” Donaldson said.
Across Chicago, Donaldson said the food hall idea has a multitude of takes on dining. “You have celebrity-driven food halls like Eatly, or Latinicity, and more functional food halls like Revival. Our take is to be more of a hospitality-focused food hall and be a dining destination.”
“We want to build a spread on a table where people are able to sample food from all over the world, and it’s the only place you can really do that,” Donaldson added.
Politan Row Chicago is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
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