Two, for dinner
New restaurant brings in-house ingredients and neighborhood charm to Grand Avenue
08/08/2012 10:00 PM
It’s 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Two restaurant won’t open for another three hours, but in the kitchen off to the side, the cooks are already busy. Two hours later, the busyness spreads to the entire restaurant. Servers rush back and forth to set the tables as a bartender sets up the bar. Outside, another employee is unloading boxes from the truck. Manager and co-owner Yamandu Perez is walking around, asking questions and checking on everything.
Everything has to be perfect before the customers arrive.
Two opened at 1132 W. Grand Ave. on Aug. 1. A brainchild of Matthew Van Valkenburgh and Yamandu Perez, co-owners of Hidsdale-based Zak’s Place restaurant, Two aims to combine rural dishes with urban culinary techniques.
The location has seen its share of restaurants come and go. Most recently, the Black Sheep, a rock ’n’ roll-themed restaurant, opened in June 2011, only to close three months later. But Two’s owners hope that good food, reasonable prices and welcoming atmosphere will be enough to ensure that it will stick around for years to come.
On the outside, the restaurant doesn’t leave much of an impression. The exteriors use muted colors. There is no prominent sign — the closest we get is a small “Two” engraved in the wooden paneling by the door.
But to anyone who makes their way inside, Two has much to offer. The restaurant is made up of two rooms — the more casual dining area and a bar in the front and the reserved dining area toward the back. Some elements from the Black Sheep — the pipes lining the ceiling, the general layout of the bar — survive, but almost everything else has been replaced. A red barn door has been painted on the wall facing the front entrance, and the new, wider wooden tables look more down-to-earth than Black Sheep’s furniture.
Perez couldn’t be happier to be at this location.
“I like the space, the neighborhood,” he said. “I like that we’re a bit off the beaten path.”
Perez described Two’s offerings as “seasonal rural dishes with an urban culinary backbone.” In practice, this means that the restaurant uses meats and vegetables one would typically find on a farm to create complex, creatively assembled dishes. The meats include chicken, duck, salmon, pork and beef. For the vegetarian customers, the restaurant offers several salads, as well as vegetables and corn for the sides.
Tom Van Lente, one of the restaurant’s chefs, said all the ingredients are acquired locally. Two gets the vegetables from local farmers markets, and meats are purchased from local wholesalers. And according to Perez, the cheese is produced in-house.
Two’s bar also draws on locally available offerings.
“We serve microbrews strictly from the Midwest,” explained Perez. “No exceptions. We have beer from Revolution Brewing, Goose Island.”
Van Lente explained that the menu would be adjusted over time.
“We want to take advantage of the seasons,” he said. “We’ll change the menu depending on what we can get.”
The staff will also use customer feedback to help the chefs improve the menu.
“We have severs talking to people,” said Van Lente. “The owners are also managers, so at least one of them is here on any given day.”
One of the complaints levied against Black Sheep was that its offerings were too expensive. Van Lente made it clear that Two has no intention of following in that path.
“We feel that the neighborhood wants a restaurant where they can come in once or twice a week,” he said, “not once a twice a year. We want to keep prices affordable.”
Entrees range between $8 and $18, with most falling between $13 and $15. The sides range from $6 to $8. Desserts cost $7.
So far, the customer response has been positive. Bob Aiken, Vice President of the Fulton River District Association, lives four blocks away from Two. He and his wife went to the opening night with his wife, and they were impressed.
“It was very nice,” said Aiken. “They had great food, the staff was well trained and very helpful. They had an excellent wine selection. [Two] got a few guys who know their wines.”
Aiken believes that Two will make a great addition the area.
“I think it brings a lot to the neighborhood,” he said. “Ever since [Black Sheep’s predecessor] May Street Market closed, it’s really been missing a reasonably priced boutique.”
This is precisely the sort of response the staff has been hoping for.
“One of the best reviews we got,” reflected Van Lente, “said that the Two looks looks like the kind of restaurant that might be around a while. That’s very encouraging. We really hope to become a part of the neighborhood, the sort of place where residents can come and hang out. Hopefully, we’ll be around for years to come.”