The Hearty Boys and Gale Gand collide to make the world a tastier place.
A few blocks away from Wrigley Field, you’ll find chef Dan Smith and mixologist Steve McDonagh (aka The Hearty Boys) in their old space at 3819 North Broadway. Joining forces with renowned pastry chef Gale Gand, the three dining moguls have opened a new restaurant, SpritzBurger, there.
The unassuming restaurant caters to everyone. While waiting for the trio to join me for dinner, I notice the room is filled with an eclectic mix of diners: a man flying solo, reading a book, a couple of ‘same side sitters’ on an obvious date and a family with a little girl who seems to really love her Mac & Cheeto (mac-and cheese with Cheetos) as she digs in for forkfuls bigger than her mouth.
As Chef Gand, Chef Smith and Steve leave their posts to chat with me, a patron walks in and the hours posted on the front door catch my eye: 5pm-10ish. I ask, “What’s with the ish?” Chef Gand is quick to respond, grinning: “It’s our ‘strong’ conviction to our hours.” Chef Smith jumps in: “We’ve done the fancy pants restaurants, so we thought we’d loosen up and do something more fun.”
And loosen up they did. Gone are the days of white tablecloths and reservations. Instead, diners walk in and choose a seat at the bar or wait to be seated by the host who pops out from behind an old school phone booth – a pretty unique host stand. “SpritzBurger is more of a drop-in, spontaneous place,” explains Chef Gand. You come in for a few drinks, perhaps a burger or one of her famous desserts and you keep moving.
So how, exactly, did these three come together? “We’d been friends for five or six years,” says Chef Gand. “We had shows on the Food Network and have kids the same age…we lead parallel lives. So we thought, let’s wreck the friendship by having a business together.” Laughing, Steve adds, “We go berry picking all the time.” Chef Smith quickly interjects, knowing is business/life partner is not the outdoorsy type, and says, “We do a lot outside with the kids, but husbands stay home.” Chef Gand nods her head in agreement.
The main concept for SpritzBurger was first discussed while the guys were on a plane. “We bounced ideas back and forth about the whole movement toward comfort food in a different way,” recalls Steve. Chef Smith adds, “I mentioned how my grandfather owned a soda fountain shop in Brooklyn in the ‘40s and a light bulb went off. We immediately talked about a burger place. And with Gale, I’d been throwing ideas at her years to try to get her to work with me.” Chef Gand retorts, “It finally worked.”
As for the restaurant’s name, it accurately reflects the main components of the menu: spritz cocktails and burgers. For the drink menu, Steve created carbonated takes on classic cocktails served right at your table from a seltzer bottle. I had a New York Sour – a slightly fizzy whiskey sour with just the right amount of bubbles to tickle your taste buds.
There’s also Chef Gand’s root beer (which she’ll serve to thousands at Lollapalooza this summer) on tap. “I’ve been making it for 20 years and it fits well with the concept,” she says. “I’m also crazy for Champagne…for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch. We’re incorporating all sorts of things we just can’t live without. It gives us a reason to show up for work.”
And when you’re looking for a hearty meal, Chef Smith has cooked up plenty of options from burgers and truffle tots with a side of house-made ketchup to one of The Hearty Boys’ many famous fried chicken recipes. “It’s lavender-flavored fried chicken,” he says, pausing to reflect. “Actually…it’s the recipe we had at our wedding.” In fact, there are several ‘Hearty faves’ on the menu.
“As much as we try to think we can completely reinvent ourselves and change everything, there are often dishes that just stick around no matter where we end up,” explains Chef Gand. “Take the lemon meringue pie I’m doing right now. It’s an imitation of one [I did at Tru] that Rich Melman will never let me stop doing. There’s certain food people associate with you, and you have to respect that. It’s wonderful to have signature dishes as a chef, not just as a restaurant.”
Going back Chef Gand’s legendary pie, you can sample a smaller version along with two other bite-sized portions of her famous desserts by ordering the tasting trio. Being a chocolate lover, I opted for Chocolate Devil Dogs (with marshmallow filling) and Rice Krispie Treats (pictured left, with salted caramel and fudge dip). My third choice was Butterscotch Pudding – a suggestion from our server, John. Smooth and creamy with a hint of savory from the salt-and-pepper peanuts, the pudding might just break up my exclusive love affair with chocolate. The small portions are perfect for sharing, but after one bite you may want to keep this ‘sampler’ dessert plate all to yourself.
And lest you think SprtizBurger is simply a dinner spot, think again. Sunday Brunch (9am to 3pm) offers whimsical fare like Voodoo Eggs, a Boystown Omlette, Beer Braised Corned Beef Hash and, you guessed it, Gale Gand’s fine pastries. Plus, there’s another menu item worth noting: Ina’s Heavenly Hots Pancakes. The recipe comes straight from breakfast queen Ina Pinkney. “We’re pairing up with chefs that are just like us; chefs that don’t have an ego,” explains Chef Smith. “Although Ina’s restaurant just closed, she wants to keep feeding people,” adds Steve. “We’d be foolish not to serve them.”
In the end, it’s all about giving the neighborhood residents what they want. “We took a look at our old menu to see what people were ordering most, and it was the burger,” shares Steve. But perhaps a perfect explanation for the creation of SpritzBurger can be best explained on www.spritzburger.com: “This one of a kind chef-collaboration is simply another cog in the machine that is our evil plan to make the world a tastier place!”
Jess Dawson Photographs