WEST TOWN — For years, chef Zoe Schor has managed the kitchen at other peoples' high-end restaurants, from California spots like French bistro Bouchon and celebrity chef Tom Colichio's famous eatery craft to, most recently, Ada Street in Noble Square.
Now the 34-year-old is ready to call the shots.
Schor is aiming to open her own restaurant, Split-Rail, 2500 W. Chicago Ave., in an old industrial building on the border of West Town and Humboldt Park in the middle of May.
The restaurant, which Schor described as "new Americana," will serve reinterpreted comfort food dishes like loaded baked-potato gnocchi and pretzel jello salad for dessert.
The latter, which is inspired by a dish Schor's partner's family makes that she called "unbelievably delicious," is traditionally made with baked pretzel crust, cool whip and strawberry jello.
But Schor intends to elevate the dish, which she has already dubbed, "Aunt T's Pretzel Surprise," so it pairs well with the rest of the menu.
Originally from Boston, Schor lived in New York and Los Angeles, where she cooked for several high-end restaurants, before landing in Chicago five years ago to run the kitchen at Ada Street, 1664 N. Ada St.
With Split-Rail, Schor aims to use her restaurant experience on a menu that's nostalgia-driven and accessible for neighborhood folks and foodies alike.
"I worked for bigger-name chefs and very high-end restaurants and I loved those experiences and I learned a ton about food and the hospitality industry, but I believe in taking those techniques and making food that's more accessible. I think there's a market for both products," she said.
The 4,000-square-foot restaurant, which housed Clyde's Donuts from the 1960s to the 1990s, will seat up to 100 people, including about 40 in a private dining area.
Though Schor has yet to nail down the final design plan, she said she wants to keep the interior industrial — think exposed brick and polished cement floors.
The kitchen will be on a higher level due to the way the restaurant and the loading dock and configured, allowing diners to look up and see into the kitchen — a component Schor is especially excited about.
"I love having an open kitchen. It adds a theatrical quality to the restaurant and trust from the guests," she said.
Drink-wise, patrons can expect reinvented classic cocktails and mostly domestic wines to fit the "Americana" theme.
Above all else, Schor wants to keep things simple, just like a split-rail fence, which is what the restaurant is literally named after.
"It's the most simple kind of fence. It's not for security. It's just, 'Here's a property line.' It's a reminder to keep things simple," she said.
"I think chefs like to make things complicated. It's a good daily reminder that sometimes simple is the way to go."