Since opening a side-by-side pizza and burger concept last summer in Chicago, John McLean, former Levy Restaurants corporate chef and current owner of Good Eats Restaurant Group, has seen his business idea take off with a healthy following of customers mainly in the 20- to 40-year-old age range. The setting at Sono Wood Fired is minimal, contemporary sleekness featuring light wood tables and upright booths, soft gold lighting, and mod-style chairs.
The menu is a showcase for Neapolitan-style, charred-around-the-edges pizzas baked in a brightly tiled, wood- and coal-burning oven visible from the small dining space. Customers can choose from a variety of pizzas including traditional tomato sauce-based pies to those topped with spicy soppressata and tomato slices, pork sausage and peppers, artichokes and goat cheese. The menu also has a few white pies, one with clams and béchamel, and another with braised fennel and a mascarpone-goat cheese mixture. A few pasta dishes, wine, and some appetizers like antipasti, bruschetta and salads, and even burrata round out the menu.
Both Sono and its sister restaurant Urban Burger, which is just next door, sit on a quieter part of Clybourn Avenue just south of the busy North Avenue intersection. The craft beer/crafty burger menu pairs well with both the Urban part of the eatery's name as well as the décor. The interior features a black, scribbled chalkboard menu behind a light wood bar, flanked by light wood tables, dark ceramic flooring and a big storefront window. Black, gray and steel accents provide an overall punk rock aesthetic. Fried eggs, fois gras, bratwurst and short ribs, in addition to veggies and artisan cheeses, form the lineup of toppers for the half-pound Angus burgers with a toasty brioche bun and choice of spicy-sweet potato fries or regular shoestring style. There's also a rundown of burger alternatives, from pulled pork and grilled chicken to vegetarian options. Thick shakes are popular here too.
The dual concept idea comes on the heels of a devastating economic recession that hit the restaurant industry hard. In the get leaner, meaner and more customer-centric kind of world we live in now, McClean's idea strikes a chord with consumers. One day they may want a burger and the next day a pizza. That said, both kitchens operate separately (although they share purchasing duties) — as a result, both sets of cooking staffs can focus on what they do best: flipping burgers or baking pies.
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