NORTH CENTER — Jamie Gilmore developed her love for cooking when she was in timeout as a precocious kid.
While the other kids in her family were outside playing, she’d find herself inside, watching her grandmother cook.
“It was originally a punishment,” Gilmore said. “But being with her I learned how to clean greens and put together the buttermilk biscuits. Over time I developed a love for cooking just watching her do it.”
Fast forward to Sunday, when all of those timeouts culminate in Gilmore opening her first restaurant.
Lizzy J Cafe at 2205 W. Montrose Ave. in North Center specializes in Southern comfort food, inspired by her mother and grandmother.
After quietly opening in November, Gilmore is hosting a grand opening at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Her restaurant features dishes like sweet potato waffles with fried chicken as well as shrimp and grits with a brown butter creole gravy and andouille sausage.
“The shrimp and grits is one of the more popular things on the menu, people rave about it,” Gilmore said. “We also do a French toast that features brioche bread from La Fournette, a local bakery.”
The restaurant’s name is a homage to her full name — Jamie Elizabeth Gilmore — as well as her family.
“I’m the fifth generation of firstborn girls with names that start with J. Because I was a precocious kid, it’s a way to pay homage to who I am because of my mom and grandma. It’s the honoring of my heritage. Those women were amazing and they helped me become the woman that I am today,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said that every Christmas, New Year’s, Fourth Of July and Thanksgiving, her family was always at her grandmother’s house in West Philadelphia, Penn. for a big home-cooked meal.
“Watching the response that everyone had when they ate my grandmother’s food, I was like, ‘Oh my god I want to do that,’” she said.
Before opening the restaurant, she was working in the dental industry managing dental practices. While she liked her job, it wasn’t until her mother died in 2004 that she realized how much she loved cooking.
“When my mom passed away, 10 days later it was Thanksgiving. My cousins hadn’t been together since we were kids. We were all off doing our own thing, going to college, getting married,” she said. “I was hosting my first Thanksgiving and there were like 27 people in my house. It was the first time I cooked such a large meal for the first time and it was the first time I realized how much of my grandmother and mother were in me.”
Her grandmother died two years later.
“After losing them, cooking was a cathartic experience. It was healing me and I could feel them with me as I cooked their recipes,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore started a catering and event planning company as a “side hustle” to start her transition into cooking full time.
“I’ve been in catering and event planning for 20 years now. I moved here to Chicago from New Jersey two years ago and it just seemed like that part of me that loved cooking was still unfulfilled,” she said.
“In August I was talking to a friend of a friend who let me know about this space that was sitting empty. I went to take a look at it when I walked in I felt like this was sitting here waiting for me.”
Lizzy J Cafe is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays. For more information visit its website here.
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