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There is much more to Boltwood than just great food.
Local foodies call the fare outrageously good. Those who have eaten the crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz are apt to swoon at even the mention of the dish. Much of the produce, meat, seafood, cheese and bread are locally sourced, and the menu changes every day to take advantage of whatever bounty is seasonally available.
Barely two miles from Evanston Township High School, the alma mater of Chef de Cuisine Brian Huston, the restaurant takes its name from the old freshman wing. “For years, Boltwood was the name of the freshman wing of Evanston Township High School and as such it represents the start of a new journey, a place that is uniquely diverse, a place that feels alive with energy and enthusiasm and a place where relationships are built,” the website reads.
Mr. Huston and John Kim, co-owner of south Evanston’s oldest favorite local coffee hangout, Brothers K Coffeehouse, operate Boltwood, 804 Davis St.
The culinary press has bestowed high honors on the restaurant and Mr. Huston, former Chef de Cuisine at The Publican. He was a 2015 James Beard Award semifinalist for “Best Chef: Great Lakes.” Chicago Magazine cited Boltwood as one of ten Best New Restaurants for 2015.
Mr. Huston grew up in Evanston and always loved to cook. He gained cooking experience at restaurants in San Francisco and Denver, then returned to Chicago, where he excelled and generated industry buzz at The Publican for six years. He was not actively looking to create Boltwood, but the opportunity to open a restaurant with Mr. Kim was too enticing to ignore.
Mr. Kim came to the idea of Boltwood in a more roundabout way. He was looking for a new challenge and intrigued with the idea of opening a restaurant. He also freely admits he had no idea how to go about doing so, or even how to “speak” the language of food.
Yet what Mr. Kim lacked in formal knowledge, he made up for with excitement and curiosity, and Mr. Huston was happy to share what he knew. The two friends travelled to New York and ate their way around the city, taste-testing and taking notes and photos of what they liked and did not like. Mr. Kim even arranged to spend time observing two of the best restaurants in the country, Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café, both part of restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group.
Mr. Meyer’s book “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” articulates a restaurant and service philosophy Mr. Kim and Mr. Huston wanted to instill in their as-yet-unnamed restaurant.
The men wanted to create a restaurant that would translate their excitement of the kitchen into an evolving menu using the freshest and most local food available with purveyors they knew personally.
They envisioned an unpretentious restaurant where employees were happy and eager to be part of creating something great.
They valued giving back to and being part of the Evanston community. They dreamt of a restaurant with solid roots, one that would still be vibrant five years from now and 20 years after that.
They pined for a restaurant where they would feel excited to go to the office, yet still have a life outside it. And as husbands and fathers, they insisted on being able to get away on occasion to see a child’s game after school and still get home at a reasonable hour.
As Boltwood’s one-year anniversary approaches in June, the two friends and partners still banter easily and constantly with one another and are still delighted to greet and cook for their families and friends. Their dream was to create something representing a life well lived. So far it is working out deliciously.