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How Tough Food Truck Laws 'Lit A Fire' And Led To New Avondale Meat Palace

By Ariel Cheung | January 4, 2017 7:54am
 DMen Tap opened Wednesday in Avondale, replacing Square Bar and giving the co-owners of DönerMen food truck a brick-and-mortar home.
DMen Tap Brings Currywurst And Kabobs To Avondale From DönerMen Truck
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AVONDALE — The DönerMen food truck was never meant to last forever.

But Chicago's cumbersome food truck scene became so intolerable after two years in business, owners of the German-Turkish mash-up accelerated their plans to put down roots.

"It just became kind of a nightmare," co-owner Shawn Podgurski said of operating the food truck. "And that really lit the fire underneath us to really get going."

DMen Tap opens Wednesday at 2849 W. Belmont Ave. in Avondale. Specializing in traditional Turkish döner kebabs and spicy currywurst, the newest iteration of DönerMen replaces Square Bar, which quietly closed in September.

Chicago's unusually restrictive food truck laws have limited the growth of the niche eateries since introduced in 2012, Podgurski said.

But until recently, there was a little slack granted when it came to rules limiting trucks to no more than two hours in one location and over 200 feet from any restaurant. That changed in recent months, and the city cracked down on violators, he said.

The DönerBox puts the spit-roasted meat and dressings on a bed of greens. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

"It became more of a grind, and it went from being a fun community to kind of competitive," Podgurski said. "They kept issuing licenses to more trucks, and there just isn't enough space."

Food truck owners would scout out places overnight, parking junker cars in coveted spots from which they could sell food the following day.

By August, the men of DönerMen were fed up and started scouting out locations for a brick-and-mortar restaurant. A few months later, a Cook County judge upheld Chicago's food truck ordinance, reinforcing their push to move on.

RELATED: Big Loss For Food Trucks As Judge Calls Gripes About City Rules 'Absurd'

As young indie rockers, Podgurski and fellow bandmate Phil Naumann had "a lot of pipe dreams," but needed to regroup after getting married and having kids, Podgurski said. His love of cooking paired well with a friend's idea to open a European street food truck, and DönerMen was born.

The Dönermen food truck launched in 2014. [Provided/DönerMen]

Their menu is fairly simple, focusing largely on the German döner kebab wraps, made with spit-roasted chicken topped with red cabbage, lettuce, bok choy and shirazi salad. The DönerBox serves up the same, but on fresh greens instead of the yufka flat bread.

While touring Germany in search of the ultimate döner, Podgurski and Naumann fell hard for currywurst, as well. Theirs is served on crispy fries with one-third pound of pork and veal sausage and sweet, tangy DMen curry sauce.

RELATED: Late-Night Food Truck Will Bring Doner Kebab To Chicago Bars

Seasonal cocktails include a winter Old-Fashioned made with Clive May's Alabama Whiskey, orange bitters and cinnamon simple syrup ($10). Fans of the Southern sazerac can try an apple brandy version made with Bulleit rye whiskey, bitters and Kübler Swiss Absinthe ($12).

Other menu items include curry fries, a döner salad and poutine.

The new restaurant extends the food truck's rock-n-roll ethos, and a replica of the truck's hand-painted, science fiction doomsday scene is front and center at DMen Tap.

Customers order from a walk-up window akin to the food truck and grab a seat or a counter space, or order from the roomy bar that remains from Square Bar.

DMen Tap offers a range of beers and housemade cocktails. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

"There's something about this neighborhood. It has a good feel to it, and it reminds of of what Logan Square and Wicker Park were back in the '90s," Podgurski said.

The trio looked for locations near Logan Square, extending their search to Avondale and Humboldt Park. When they discovered Square Bar was vacant, it seemed like a perfect fit.

"Logan Square just happened too fast. You blinked your eye and there's just all these places," Podgurski said.

Avondale, on the other hand, gives them room to grow.

Customers order food from a window designed to look like the DönerMen food truck. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

The offbeat neighborhood — home to the similarly veined Kuma's Corner and Reed's Local — is a perfect fit for the owners of DönerMen, said Podgurski, who lives in Humboldt Park.

The bar will also look to collaborate with the nearby Bucket O' Blood record store on "deep cuts" and record releases and pair with other neighborhood businesses on a score of projects, Podgurski said.

"There's no reason this can't be a place where people come, take Uber and visit a bunch of different places to eat and drink," he said. "We want to be a park of making this strip (flourish)."

They will, however, bring the food truck back in the summer. The truck's offseason — following a December stint at Christkindlmarket — gives the team enough time to settle in on Belmont Avenue before returning to the food truck grind, Podgurski.

The restaurant is open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays.