This article was published in the June 2016 issue of the Irish American News under the “Guilty Pleasures” column.
Clodagh Lawless and Amy Lawless, from the established Irish restaurant family Lawless, are working on something big, really big: an 8,000 square foot 230-seat restaurant in the heart of the Chicago theater district.
The Dearborn, as it’s called, will serve high and lowbrow food to cater to the variety of people at the intersection of Dearborn and Randolph: State Street shoppers, office workers and of course, theater goers. It’s due to open this month, as the city firmly embraces summer.
“We’re going for the urban American tavern experience,” said Clodagh.
“We’ve been involved in our family business our whole lives, we really don’t know anything else other than restaurants and bars. We’re ready now, to step out from behind the scenes and be at the forefront of The Dearborn,” said Clodagh, her Irish accent stamped by years in Chicago, the city she considers her home.
Executive chef Aaron Cuschieri will no doubt settle right in to the new kitchen, one he designed and had custom-built to bring his menu to life. His resume is impressive, with stints at Kinmont, Alinea, Takashi and Slurping Turtle, not to mention his experience on Top Chef New Orleans (season 11).
“The menu will be my very own,” said Cuschieri. “I’ve taken direction from some incredibly well-known, talented chefs and now I’m ready to take the lead from the get-go. This is what I’ve waited my whole career for.”
While Cushieri is making his dream menu a reality, I hope he can keep up with Clodagh’s list of guilty pleasures, pleasures she doesn’t feel “one bit guilty” about, which include, a piping hot bowl of seafood chowder with homemade Irish brown bread paired with a cold, crisp and clean glass of Sauvignon Blanc, followed by her favorite dessert: key lime pie topped off with an Irish coffee.
Clodagh clearly knows exactly what she likes and according to her, key lime pie was the dealmaker when the sisters hired their pastry chef, Courtney Joseph.
“She made the best key-lime pie I’ve ever tasted,” said Clodagh. It will be on the menu, so you can try it too.
Amy’s guilty pleasure is simple: an Irish coffee, a drink you’ll be able to order from the subway tiled bar at The Dearborn.
This is the sisters’ first restaurant venture together, which Clodagh describes as a natural progression for them both in their careers because of their history working together, their similarity in age and close friendship.
From 1998 to 2009, Clodagh and Amy managed and operated the Irish Oak in Wrigleyville and after selling the pub in 2009, they hoped to invest the profits from the sale in a new restaurant, but the Great Recession delayed their plans.
“As fate would have it, it worked out for the better that it took us this long to find our place,” said Clodagh.
The Block 37 location is impressive. During my visit, the wood herringbone floors were just being laid, but I could already imagine the space bustling with people out for a memorable meal with family or friends, the atmosphere punctuated by the timelessness of the Lawless family’s hospitality that captures the exciting feeling of being out to eat and also feeling right at home.
You would be remiss not to peek inside the booths draped with curtains for privacy. You’ll find them on the way to the washrooms and the private dining room with its own bar and eye-catching chandeliers, a perfect spot for a rehearsal dinner or 40th birthday party.
The sisters are hoping you’ll feel right at home. Me too, because I cannot wait to slide into one of those curtained booths for a taste from the luxury caviar bar, a Chicago-style hot dog and a PBR. High and lowbrow indeed.
RED PRAWNS ‘A LA PLANCHA’
Notes from Chef Aaron Cuschieri:
In the restaurant we use Spanish Red Prawns (Carabineros) which can get very expensive and cook them on a Plancha, but as most houses don’t have a Plancha we altered the recipe to simply use a saute pan. The glory of this dish is any types of shrimp can be used. It is preferred to use shrimp with heads on but that can be a personal preference. This dish makes a great appetizer to share before a meal or you can make a 2 or 3 times recipe and enjoy it as a main course. This dish is also great because of how easy it is to make and doesn’t involve too much work ahead of time either.
Red Prawns, Carabineros – 1 lb (about 5-7each)
Tarragon, picked – 5 Leafs torn into small pieces
Cognac, Hennessy – 1/8 C
Butter, Unsalted – 3T
Spring Onions – 3 ea
Cucumbers, English – 1 ea
Kosher Salt & Black Pepper – TT
Clean Red Prawns by keeping the head and tail attached but remove the shell between the tail and head. Also remove vein line from back.
Clean Spring Onions by removing three fourth of the woody stalk and snipping the bottom root end. Roast the cleaned Spring Onions with a little EVOO and Kosher Salt in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
Prepare Cucumber by cutting into a medium dice, lightly salting and sit for about 15 minutes. Rinse off and drain all water. (this is considered a salt pickle), make sure to rinse thoroughly.
Heat a medium sauté pan with a little canola oil to medium high heat. Add Red Prawns and cook evenly on each side until about 2/3 of the way cooked (shrimp will look reddish or pink depending on the shrimp you use. Then add Cognac and reduce in pan by half. If using an open burner be aware of that alcohol will cause a flame up. Once the Cognac has reduced, add Butter and Spring Onions. Cook until the butter is melted and the Prawns and Spring Onions are cooked thoroughly. Toss in Tarragon, mix in pan, and place ingredients on flat plate or swallow bowl include all the sauce form the pan onto the plate. Spoon on diced Cucumbers and season with freshly cracked Black Pepper. Garnish with Lemon Wedges and Parsley Leafs if desired. This dish is also great with grilled bread.