PILSEN — If you don't want to stare at the giant octopus mural looming over Pl-zen, the new gastropub in the neighborhood that inspired its name, you can order it off the menu - seasoned with epazote, a traditional Mexican seasoning.
Owner Cesar Augusto Villegas insists that while his dishes do have some Mexican flair, there are also Asian, Cajun and American twists to the food. The menu ranges from tostadas, a more traditional Mexican dish, to wild boar meatballs, based on Villegas’ mother’s recipe.
“Pretty much the whole area serves Hispanic food, so we thought, why not do something totally different,” said Villegas, whose restaurant recently opened at 1519 W. 18th St.
Villegas, 30, got his start in the Chicago restaurant scene as a server at restaurants all the way from Vivo on Randolph Street to The Cheesecake Factory on North Michigan Avenue. But it was while serving at Gioco in the South Loop that he met José Alberto, 29, who would partner up with him to start Pl-zen.
“He [Villegas] was a really bad waiter by the way,” Alberto, now a chef at Pl-zen, said laughing.
On his last day at Gioco, Villegas literally threw in the towel after a chef told him, “If you don’t like it, open your own restaurant.”
“And I did,” he said.
Pl-zen is an upscale bar without the upscale prices, according to Villegas. The food averages around $17 for an entrée, and the bar features an extensive list of local beers and spirits, including whiskey by Few Sprits and beers by Domaine DuPage and Three Floyds.
José Alberto said Pl-zen tries to support local farms as much as possible.
“It’s hard because many of those places don’t deliver. Sometimes they bring it [produce] when they have a chance, but if not we have to go there,” he said.
Currently the bar is open for dinner, Monday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight. Pl-zen will also be open for brunch starting Dec. 21, Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will feature items like homemade sausages and green chorizo.
“It’ll be more of an upscale Mexican brunch,” José Alberto said. “We have to keep our accents in the culture.”
And get out and snap some photos of the octopus mural while you can. Villegas wants the mural to be seasonal, so come summer, the menu may be the only place you see an octopus at Pl-zen.
“Eventually we’ll probably get that bee we wanted,” he said smiling.