Chefs/business partners Francis Brennan, left, and Jeff Mahin at Stella Barra, which will be in the same building as their other venture, Summer House. (Chris Sweda / October 14, 2013)
Last we checked with Jeff Mahin and Francis Brennan, the two chefs had opened the artisan doughnut shop Do-Rite Donuts in the Loop.
Now the pair, along with R.J., Jerrod and Molly Melman (Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises), are set to open two side-by-side Lincoln Park restaurants: Summer House Santa Monica, a California-style American restaurant, and Stella Barra Pizzeria, a concept with locations (also owned by Lettuce) in Santa Monica and Hollywood.
Summer House will open sometime next week; Stella Barra will follow a week or two later. Both will reside at 1952 N. Halsted St., an address that once belonged to Tillie’s restaurant (though the building housing the new restaurants is new construction).
“I think of California cuisine as less of a cuisine and more of a sensibility,” Mahin says. “I want the food to be very simple, but everything with a chef’s touch. We’ll have some things that are Asian influenced and some that are Latin. And something as simple as wild Atlantic salmon grilled with a little bit of olive oil.”
Already set for Summer House’s menu are wood-roasted chicken and Thai-spiced Thumbelina carrots. And because it’s a Lettuce concept, you can count on some sushi or sashimi (fluke and uni crudo will be an early menu feature) and at least one serious burger.
The decor will evoke a summer beach house with plants and whitewashed wood; a large glass ceiling in the middle of the dining room will let in plenty of sun. “Even when it’s snowing,” says Mahin, “it’ll still feel like outside.” Beach-inspired cocktails will highlight the beverage program.
Stella Barra, when it opens, will be much like its California cousins. “About 70 percent the same,” Mahin says. “We adjust the toppings to every market. Some things that work in Hollywood won’t work in Santa Monica, and obviously not here.”
Most surprisingly, given the industry trend, is that Stella Barra won’t be using wood- or coal-fired ovens.
"We try to do everything differently,” Mahin says. “We proof the dough in individual jars for 36 hours cold, then 12 hours outside; it’s an extreme proof, more like bread. And we use an all-electric oven, so we really can control the humidity and the heat.
“I think we do a unique pizza,” he says. “It’s not Neopolitan; I love the idea of Neopolitan, but I’ve always hated the idea of a soggy middle. Our dough is more like a bread dough, red
winter wheat, so it’s amber golden-brown and airy on the outside, but consistently crisp on the bottom.”
Handmade pastas and “a lot” of vegetable offerings will round out the menu.
“I can honestly say when traveling,” Mahin says, “that when I don’t eat my own pizza, I miss it.”