Sometimes “chain” restaurants get a bad rap. In comparison to independent restaurants, the menus may not be as creative, the design/decor may be the same in every location and lack pizazz, and the food, while consistent, can be mediocre and too predictable.
There’s also a big difference between a fast food chain and a chain of fast casual eateries in quality, selection and service, and you can't compare apples to oranges.
When you move to the upscale chain category, there are a few chains that I really love and where any of the above mentioned flaws don’t seem to apply, or can be forgiven, when overshadowed by superior service, seasonal menu specialties made with local ingredients and updated and sleek decor.
Cooper’s Hawk is one of my favorites. An Illinois-based chain that began in Orland Park 14 years ago, it was the vision of founder Tim McEnery, still the face of this successful venture. He brought a California-style wine-tasting experience to the Midwest and married it with an on-site eatery carrying a varied menu of starters, sandwiches, entrees and desserts to pair with their own wines.
Originally, the wine was produced on-site, but the process outgrew the facility and was later moved to a separate facility in another suburb. Another facet of the company is the wine club, which has grown to nearly 400,000 members. I’ve been a member myself.
If you live in the Region you may have visited the Hobart location for a meal, a wine tasting or a stop in the gift shop. It’s one of now more than 40 locations in nine states with six more openings planned for next year.
However, the newest restaurant — which will be known as the flagship location — is designed to be a destination for wine lovers from all over.
I was able to get a sneak peek just before its opening on Veterans Day. I was really excited when I heard what building it would be occupying and I can’t think of a more fitting place.
Located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood on Oak Street in the former Esquire Theatre, the new spot will be called Cooper’s Hawk Esquire Chicago. It was previously occupied by Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, and I’d been there last summer not too long before its closing and marveled at the elegance and history of the space. Dating back to 1938, the theater later became a movie-plex and then spent a little time unoccupied before being converted to a restaurant.
The layout is similar to what it looked like during its Del Frisco’s days with the centerpiece being a stunning, three-story wine tower with an interior spiral staircase. That’s something you’re not going to find in any other Cooper’s Hawk location. Behind a large tasting area on the second floor is a wall of wine sabres and other bits of wine history on display.
Whereas the other locations feature only Cooper’s Hawk wines (although there have been several collaborations with other wineries around the world), the Cooper’s Hawk Esquire Chicago will feature thousands of bottles from all over the world. They’re calling it a “tribute to the world of wine.” They’ve taken the concept of a fusion of wine, Napa-style tasting room, upscale casual restaurant and artisanal retail market and upped the game. Everything at this spot is next level.
The change isn’t limited to the grande decor and displays or the wine selection, but the menu has also been expanded from the classic dishes that are customer favorites to include five elevated dishes that are exclusive to the Chicago location — meals like a 25-ounce bone-in ribeye served with blistered tomatoes from Chicago-based Mighty Vine, and a Chilean sea bass.
Opening in the same week not far away was the World’s Largest Starbucks on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile — a massive new destination for coffee lovers that the company describes as “a tribute to the roasting and the crafting of coffee.”
This new Cooper’s Hawk destination will likely be the wine version of that — a tribute to the art of wine making around the globe, a carefully-curated collection that highlights the diversity of the beverage and a celebration of the food that pairs so nicely with it.
For more information on the new wine destination location in Chicago, visit chiwinery.com.