LOGAN SQUARE — Diana Dávila, the former executive chef at Cantina 1910, is taking over the former Catalpa Kitchen and opening a Mexican restaurant modeled after a traditional antojeria.
The chef officially bought the property, 2800 W. Logan Blvd., last month. If all goes according to plan, Dávila is hoping to open the restaurant in February, she said.
"I feel as though I'm living the dream by having a business in my neighborhood," Dávila said. "My daughter goes to school across the street. I can drop her off, and then start dinner service. I get to cook. It's just awesome."
In August, Dávila told DNAinfo Chicago she was hoping to open a restaurant in her home neighborhood of Logan Square, but wouldn't share the street location.
As it turns out, Dávila had been eyeing the Catalpa Kitchen for a few years.
"I would actually come here for lunch sometimes with my daughter. I even went as far as asking my real estate broker to see if it was for sale. Literally after I asked that, a month later, it went up for sale," she said.
The restaurant will be modeled after a traditional Mexican antojeria, which Dávila described as Mexican tapas but more meaningful.
"It means small plates, but it also means more than that. It's not just an appetizer, it's not just a small plate. I really had a connection with it. Antojo means something you long for, a craving," she said.
The restaurant is coming to the former Catalpa Kitchen. [Google Maps]
While she wouldn't divulge any details on the menu items, the name or the decor — "I want it to be mysterious" — she said the restaurant will be small with seats for about 40 people and won't be a fine-dining establishment.
"It's really intimate. That's what I really want to do. It's like living the dream. You get to cook and run the food and be with everyone," Dávila said.
Dávila was raised outside Chicago and began her culinary career at age 10 in her parents' taquería. She studied at a culinary school in Oaxaca, Mexico. By the time she was 20, the Sun-Times dubbed her a “Mexican Marvel." At 21, she received a two-star review from Phil Vettel of the Tribune.
Before a stint in Washington, D.C. — where she served as the head chef of Sidebar, a contemporary cocktail bar, and Jackie's, a contemporary American restaurant — Dávila fell in love with Logan Square, where she and her husband bought their first home.
In September 2015, Dávila officially began her tenure as executive chef of the upscale Mexican restaurant Cantina 1910 when it opened in Andersonville. But just three months into the venture, she left citing "irreconcilable differences" with the co-owners of the restaurant, Mark Robertson and Mike Sullivan.
Why Catalpa Kitchen closed
Catalpa Kitchen, which former head chef Bryan McClaran previously described as a mix between Cozy Corner and Longman & Eagle, quietly closed in the middle of the summer after less than a year of business.
McClaran said it may have suffered from too much competition in the booming neighborhood.
"When I was there, the owner was talking about giving up because there was more competition in the neighborhood than she had anticipated," McClaran said.
McClaran quit after a few short months due to a "conflict" with owner Lynn Malec, who previously ran the French bistro, La Tache, in Andersonville.
Attempts to reach Malec were unsuccessful.
"The concept wasn't really working, which was part of the reason I left," McClaran said.
McClaran, who is now running the kitchen at Bangers & Lace in Roscoe Village, emphasized that though there were "internal struggles," he has "nothing against" Malec.
"I do not mean to speak ill of her in any way. But after I left, it became a rotating door of personnel, which exemplified a lot of the issues that were going on there," he said.
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