An attractively-priced bistro-style café with an exciting menu and multi-use business plan, run by a pioneering North Shore food-and wine expert, is coming to the corner of Central & Ewing. The Central Street Café, targeting a July opening, will give north Evanston and the near-western business district of Central Street in particular even greater diversity in its already-impressive dining offerings.
Proprietor Mitchell Dulin is well-known to connoisseurs of the Chicago food scene as the innovator who challenged restauranting convention in the 1980s with the groundbreaking Chardonnay, an acclaimed French-themed venue that offered good wine without the high markup typical in the US. Dulin then ran the Venice Café, one of the first "fast casual" concept restaurants in Chicagoland, for many years. Last decade he designed, opened, and operated the Tuscan Market & Café, a combo gourmet food market, wine shop, upscale deli and cafe in Arlington Heights. After taking a couple years off to teach budding restaurateurs, Dulin now returns both to his passion, uncomplicated French-Italian food, and to Evanston, a city he knows well.
Central Street already has some top tier Euro fare, with Jacky's on Prairie and Jilly's (on Green Bay) anchoring that bracket, as well as delicious, fast, and inexpensive eats such as Little Island, Old Neighborhood Grill, Sarkis, Prairie Joe's, and Mustard's Last Stand, to name a few. Dulin's new project, which will involve both an exterior and interior makeover of the former Blockbuster movie store, aims for the middle ground, a high-quality but price-friendly café.
I got a sneak peek at the menu and my mouth is still watering. Think "small plates" like warm baby beets with Boucheron goat cheese and a lavender honey drizzle, or classic bistro fare such as rosemary-garlic lamb chops. Or, for a mid-day lunch meeting, how about artisanal smoked turkey loin on a ciabatta roll with havarti cheese, leaf lettuce and sun-dried tomato mayonnaise?
But, assuming the City Council adapts its liquor ordinance, you won't have to sit down and wait to enjoy the café's offerings. Tucked next to the main room will be an upscale cheese mart/Italian deli plus a small wine shop focusing on small-production wines (and craft beers) at what Dulin says will be "reasonable" price-points. Over 100 cheeses will be offered as well as designer sausages and imported condiments. Utilizing brick and wood uncovered during the gutting of the existing store, the planned decor, as described, will be rich in texture, from the carpeting to the wooden bookshelf-style wine racks and vintage-looking brass lighting.
Area patrons are well familiar with the "crown jewel" village section of Central Street between Hartrey and Green Bay, with the popular Bluestone dominating the night scene and warm-weather weekend walking crowds. The more in-the-know are frequenting the burgeoning arts-and-antique scene east of Green Bay, where, it's hoped, Bluestone's John Enright will open another restaurant this summer in the former transmission shop space at 1801 Central. The nearer west business district, between Bennett and Marcy, is less well-known, but the Central Street Café would actually be the 7th establishment offering a chance to get a meal or a snack in a 2-block stretch.
Current food options in Central Street West include:
As gasoline prices tick ever upward, the trend toward dining more locally will only grow stronger. But with food choices like these, both the economic recovery and the summer can't come soon enough!