Ian Rusnak and Eric Safin, the chef-owners of the brand new Elina’s in West City have labored in dozens of eating places — steakhouses, Chinese language eating places, cafes, high-end spots with Michelin stars. However once they lastly opened their very own place, they selected a small neighborhood joint the place they’d run the kitchen themselves, cooking the kind of snug Italian-American classics that they hope will make individuals wish to come again repeatedly: rooster and eggplant parmesan, rigatoni a la vodka, linguine and clams. There’s additionally ribeye steak and Dover sole for particular events, as a result of generally it’s good to have a good time proper in your neighborhood.
“We’re not attempting to vary the sport by way of choices,” says Rusnak. “I really feel like there could be instances when eating places are inventive for the sake of being inventive, and you permit your expertise there and say, ‘That was attention-grabbing,’ after which don’t return. We wish to be present one thing craveable.”
Regardless of its lack of a liquor license — it’s BYOB for now — reservations for tables on the 28-seat area, which opened in mid-September, are already exhausting to return by; there are ten extra first-come, first-serve seats on the bar, however, says Rusnak, “it could really feel awkward sitting on the bar with no booze.”
The 2 cooks met working at Restaurant Marc Forgione, a brand new American restaurant in New York Metropolis run by the Prime Chef winner, and have become shut buddies, frequent colleagues in several restaurant kitchens, and occasional roommates. Rusnak ultimately turned culinary director at Brandon Sodikoff’s restaurant group Hogsalt Hospitality, whereas Safin was the opening chef de delicacies at Verōnika, Stephen Starr’s opulent Japanese European spot that opened in New York in January 2020 and closed two months later.
When the pandemic hit, Safin and Rusnak teamed as much as begin a catering enterprise, working at personal occasions alongside the East Coast and in and round Chicago. They provided a alternative of three menus: Italian-American, French bistro/brasserie, and steakhouse. Eighty % of their shoppers selected the Italian-American choice. Rusnak and Safin knew they have been onto one thing. Additionally they realized that, after spending a lot time in administration roles, they missed cooking and common interplay with clients.
Final November, they started trying to find location for a everlasting restaurant in Chicago, which they appreciated for its density and since it was cheaper than New York; to afford the hire on a similarly-sized place in Manhattan, they figured they must cost 4 instances as a lot for entrees, which might make it inconceivable to run the kind of small neighborhood spot they’d dreamed of. They signed a lease on the area in West City in June and spent the summer season doing a lot of the renovations themselves. They borrowed the identify from Safin’s mom, which, Safin says, makes her very blissful.
As a result of The Gringo, the area’s former tenant, had its liquor license revoked, town positioned a 12-month maintain on additional functions from that handle, so Elina’s received’t have the ability to apply for its personal license till subsequent Might. Someday subsequent yr, Rusnak and Safin additionally plan to repair up the restaurant’s yard and open up a patio.
However for now, they’re pleased with what they’ve created. “We contact actually each facet of the restaurant from starting to finish,” Rusnak says, “from when it comes within the door to when it lands on the plate. That’s what units us aside.”
Take a better have a look at dishes from Elina’s menu under.
Elina’s, 1202 W. Grand Avenue, Open 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday by way of Saturday.