WICKER PARK — French toast baked in a wood-burning oven topped with bacon and pecan sprinkles, a seasonal "perfect summer torta" and an expanded snacks menu with pickled pigs feet and ceviche tostadas are among the highlights at Xoco Wicker Park, a new Mexican eatery set to open Thursday.
Rick Bayless's first full-service restaurant outside of his Clark Street trio of Topolobampo, Frontera Grill and Xoco in River North, the Wicker Park Xoco is located at 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. on the southeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Honore Street, across from Bongo Room, a famed brunch spot.
Though a Tribune report announced Tuesday as the opening, Jen Fite, a Bayless spokeswoman, said the official opening to the public is planned for Thursday.
Bayless, 60, who stars in the PBS show "Mexico — One Plate a Time," is best known locally for his Frontera Grill and Topolobampo Mexican restaurants, the latter of which again received a star from the prestigious Michelin 2014 Guide in November.
On Friday, Bayless, a Bucktown resident who lives about five block away from his new Wicker park eatery, said he will "float" between his existing restaurants and the new Xoco, which he described as "part of the family."
In that family spirit, Bayless has brought on Andres Padilla, Topolobampo's chef de cuisine, to lead Xoco Wicker Park's open kitchen.
Padilla will oversee a staff that includes Isaac Magana, who recently left Bucktown gastropub The Bristol to serve as Xoco's lead chef.
The main difference between the River North and Wicker Park Xoco is the addition of a bar and a weekend brunch, served from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Wicker Park's Xoco will offer 17 draft beers from local brewers such as Moody Tongue, Une Annee and 5 Rabbit and three cocktails along with bottled beers.
The three draft cocktails — a margarita, a grapefruit paloma and raspberry mint margarita — range from $10 to $12 each; draft beers are around $6 per glass.
The new Xoco also offers a wider selection of "snacks and sides" than the River North Xoco, including red and green ceviche tostadas, a pickled pig's feet tostada and queso fundido.
The Wicker menu adds three seasonal specials: elotes or corn and melon, both from Nichols Farm and a "perfect summer torta," made with smoked Gunthrop Farms' turkey and a homemade "Sriracha-style 3-chile hot sauce."
The new eatery, which can can seat up to 76 people indoors and 45 on an outdoor patio, has brought an additional 48 jobs to the area, Fite said.
Training began in mid-July for the team, which includes some familiar local faces.
Paco Zamora, a server that worked at The Savoy, a recently closed seafood and absinthe bar, described the training as "intense" and said he "needs to know about every single ingredient."
Zamora said his favorite item on the menu is a Torta Cubana, a rich creamy sandwich with smoked pork loin, bacon and fresh avocado topped with chipotle mustard.
For those with a sweet tooth, the eatery's "bean-to-cup" program offers chocolate drinks (and pastries) made from cacao beans ground onsite and blended with Intelligentsia espresso and cappuccino.
Fite said the sidewalk patio is expected to be open on Thursday and that the Xoco sign, if all goes well, should be hanging by Monday.
Currently there is a sign above the restaurant for Salud, a tequila lounge that closed last February. The build-out of the 1880s-era storefront building began in March, after the Landmark commission approved plans to renovate the building,
Xoco Wicker Park, 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Xoco Wicker Park Menu by Rick Bayless
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