LOGAN SQUARE — As veteran chef Sam Engelhardt was gearing up to open his first restaurant last spring, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. Like so many budding small business owners, Engelhardt was forced to delay his dream.
But with help from his team, Engelhardt prevailed and has finally opened his Logan Square restaurant to the public, about a year later than originally planned.
En Passant at 3010 W. Diversey Ave. opened last week for limited indoor service in accordance with the city’s coronavirus restrictions. As of Thursday, restaurants and bars can serve up to 100 people or 50 percent of their capacity, whichever is fewer.
The menu — “old-world comfort food” inspired by Engelhardt’s years of culinary experience and childhood recipes — is split between starters, “in-the-middle” dishes and entrees, or “plates.”
Dishes include duck confit and apricot terrine with mustard, pickles and sourdough ($12), kefta-spiced cauliflower with romesco, chimichurri and almond ($10) and chicken milanese with capers, lemon and parsley ($18). The restaurant is currently BYOB as Engelhardt works on securing a liquor license.
“The menu still falls in line with the original intent, which was globally inspired comfort food. That core has remained the same,” Engelhardt said.
En Passant, which is named after a special chess move, is Engelhardt’s first restaurant, but it’s far from his first job in the kitchen. The Florida native has worked for Longman & Eagle, Chicago Firehouse Restaurant and Kith & Kin. He was the opening chef de cuisine at Au Cheval, a West Loop eatery known for its burger.
Opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic hasn’t been easy, but Engelhardt said it’s given him time to make embellishments to the restaurant’s old-world decor and to learn new skills.
“Construction and stuff like that: what parts I could do, I would do. Figuring out inspections — that was new for me,” he said.
Even so, Engelhardt said he’s spent some nights questioning his chosen career path given how much the restaurant industry has suffered during the pandemic.
“You see good restaurants closing, it makes you wonder,” he said.
Engelhardt never gave up on En Passant, thanks in part to his dedicated employees, namely Joseph DeFalco, who works the front of the house, and sous chef Zach Craig.
“I know it’d get opened. It was just a matter of what it looked like when it finally got opened,” Engelhardt said.
The first week was “exhausting because everything was new and the days are long,” Engelhardt said, but now he’s gotten into a rhythm and he’s excited for what’s to come after a long and arduous year.
“It’s the only industry I feel is home,” he said. “Whatever the industry is going to turn into, it’s beyond my control. All I know is I’m a part of it and I’m here to stay.”
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