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Carriage House Will Bring Charleston To Wicker Park

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 22, 2012 3:00PM

Chicago is about to be introduced to a new kind of Southern charm. "Southern food doesn't have to be deep fried and drenched in brown gravy," explained Mark Steuer, chef at the soon-to-open Carriage House. "Southern regional cuisine, especially from Charleston, is unique because it's not heavy." Yesterday, we took a first look at the unfinished restaurant and chatted with Steuer about his vision for Carriage House.

Steuer is currently the chef at The Bedford, and the same team is working on Carriage House. As you can see from the photos, it's not quite done yet but a surprising amount of work has been completed since they started construction in May. "It's just down to the finishes," said partner Anne Smith. The previous tenants had a woefully small kitchen with an inconvenient overhang in the middle—"You had to crawl underneath to get to the dishwashing station, or hire very short dishwashers," explained Steuer. The team has built out an open kitchen into the former dining room, so everyone can watch Steuer and his crew at work.

In addition to the already-installed white tiling, the space will boast dramatic wrought-iron chandeliers and whitewashed wood panelling. The tables will be made of reclaimed lumber from Minnesota. The effect is "black and white with wood mixed in," explained Smith. "It will feel southern, but a little more modern."

What about the food? Well, expect lots of seafood and a focus on fresh produce - not what you expect when you hear "southern." Steuer will be sourcing his seafood (clams, shrimp and grouper) from day boat fishermen in Charleston, and making regional classics like She-Crab soup, shrimp and grits and clam boils. There will be shared plates, but none of your precious 2-bite silliness here - sharing means family, hospitality, and the other great Southern feelings and they want you to be able to dig right in. Steuer 86'd traditional bread service, but there will be fresh cornbread and biscuits, and house-made pullman loaves to sop up the sauces.

Mixer Michael Simon, formerly of Acadia and Graham Elliot, will be running the cocktail program. Classics like Charleston Punch and Sweet tea (with a tea blend custom-made by Rare Tea Cellar) will appear alongside some of Simon's signature modern concoctions. The wine program will be dominated by French whites. "We were just down in Charleston," said Steuer, "and all we wanted to drink was crisp white wine all the time."

Carriage House will open in early September.

Carriage House is located at 1700 W. Division Street.