SOUTHPORT CORRIDOR — Opening next month in the former Justin's, Tuco and Blondie will pay tribute to Mexico's vibrant culture and rich history while offering a "Mexifun" menu, developers said.
Setting an opening date for mid-September at 3358 N. Southport Ave., 4 Star Restaurant Group said Tuco and Blondie will exude the lively spirit of Mexican neighborhoods and become a neighborhood gathering place in the popular business district.
"It's very exciting to add another completely original concept that we feel fits the fabric of this community," said Josh Rutherford, a co-owner of 4 Star. "We fell in love with this neighborhood years ago, and since have been welcomed by all the people that frequent Crosby's Kitchen."
Design elements drew from La Loteria, a Mexican card game similar to tarot cards, said Jean Dufresne, a Space Architects spokesman who collaborated with fellow Space principal Jay Keller on the remodel.
With weathered brick, concrete and distressed wood featuring heavily in the design, the dining area is meant to feel sturdy while evoking the nostalgic elements of Mexican neighborhoods. School house-inspired seating, industrial lighting and bold graphic tiles will enhance the effect.
The project was rooted in the lively and family friendly environment of the Southport Corridor, Dufresne said. Tuco and Blondie will "reflect that image, and we want the neighbors to feel like it's a welcoming and friendly place for them to enjoy."
Space Architects' past projects include Flacos Tacos, Half Acre Brewery, Blackwood and Logan Theatre.
Tuco and Blondie replaces Justin's bar, which closed in January after 31 years in Southport. The 4-Star group signed a 10-year lease on the storefront with two five-year optional extensions, co-owner Doug Dunlay said previously.
Justin's bar closed in January. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
The 3,000-square-foot backyard patio will remain in the new restaurant, although it will be smaller, with a newly expanded kitchen shrinking the outdoor space. Combined with the 3,000 square feet inside, the restaurant will seat 250 people.
New windows and an 18-foot-long glass-encased expansion along Roscoe Street are the main exterior changes, with the limestone facade staying in tact.
Tuco and Blondie is the first of two 4 Star Restaurant Group expansions planned for the Southport Corridor. While the group first announced it would open a French-Italian eatery next to Crosby's Kitchen, Tuco and Blondie got the jump on Ella Elli, which is slated to open in early 2017.
The Mexican restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner weekdays, closing at 10 p.m. each night, adding a brunch service on weekends, when it will be open until 11 p.m.
The restaurant will have Mexican beers on tap, a wine list "highlighting artisanal domestic producers" and a cocktail list with margaritas and an "unparalleled" tequila selection, according to the executive summary shared at a past neighborhood meeting.
Chefs have been experimenting with the menu, which is not yet finalized, and sharing some creations on the Tuco and Blondie Facebook page:
Tortillas will be made fresh daily, and a wood-burning grill will get big play with steak, seafood and pork dishes. A sample menu includes dishes like skirt steak fajitas ($24), camarones brochetas (bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with jack cheese and jalapeño, also $24) and pork belly tacos ($13).
Brunch dishes will include Mexican dishes like chilaquiles alongside brunch staples like benedicts and pancakes. Street food-style dishes like fish tacos, ceviche and tableside guacamole will be on a separate bar menu to enhance the outdoor bar's "fun, festive and lively" atmosphere.
With eight neighborhood restaurants, 4 Star owners "fully understand the responsibility and privilege that comes with operating a business in a tight community," they wrote. Its portfolio includes Dunlays on Clark and Dunlays on the Square, Smoke Daddy, DOC Wine Bar, Remington's and The Windsor.
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