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First Look: The Bedford

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Apr 26, 2011 4:00PM

After extensive renovations to the basement level of the former MB Financial Bank building at Division and Ashland, the Bedford is set to open with dinner service this Friday at 5 p.m. The brand new restaurant and lounge will boast a kitchen steered by Chef Mark Steuer, who logged several years cooking at HotChocolate and, most recently, nine months in the kitchen at the Gage. And on Monday, we got a sneak peek of the revamped space.

Steuer, who last month previewed some Bedford eats while guest-dishing aboard the Southern Mac & Cheese Truck, will focus on showcasing the breadth and depth of local ingredients, with nods to the many ethnic cuisines thriving in the Midwest. One of his forthcoming plates (by way of Germany): meatballs, sauerkraut, fresh spaetzle and pickled lingonberries preserved in red wine vinaigrette.

Originally called the Home Bank and Trust Company Building, the bank was built in the mid-1920s (clad in limestone quarried in Bedford, Indiana, hence the restaurant's name) and designated a city landmark in 2008. The Bedford will seat about 125 diners, plus room for 45 in the drinks-only vault lounge. Anne Smith, director of operations for Salita Development, the firm behind the renovation, has overseen the visual transformation of the space, with a keen eye toward retaining and creatively reusing leftover elements. The bank vault, giant metal doors and all, houses a swanky lounge area; safe-deposit boxes still line its walls. Original terrazzo floor tiles, slab marble and crown moldings have all been saved. And the wood-framed, frosted-glass doors that once led to private counting rooms are now fronting bathroom stalls.

The Bedford's bar program will be run by mixologist Peter Gugni, who is returning to Chicago after a stretch bartending out in San Francisco. He says he hopes to bring some of that city's more citrus-centric approach (in contrast to, say, the more spirits-driven cocktails you might find in New York bars) to the Bedford's cocktail program. He is partial to Latin American libations, including rum and Brazilian cacha├ža, a liquor made from sugar cane. Among the debut cocktails, the Scalawag: a punch-style drink including Ron Zacapa rum, five-spice simple syrup, lime and muddled strawberry. Plus, expect several well-selected beers on tap, and - get this! - Fernet-Branca, the Italian amaro, will be available alla spina. (Emphatic kissing of fingertips.)

The Bedford is located at 1612 West Division Street.