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Peek Inside Hearth & Crust, Opening Soon In Irving Park

 Hearth & Crust Opening In Irving Park
Hearth & Crust Opening In Irving Park
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IRVING PARK — Neighborhoods longing for a new restaurant should consider luring Eileen and Jose "Chepe" Garcia as residents.

The husband-and-wife team have made a habit of opening the type of joint they'd like to eat at close to wherever they call home, first in Logan Square with Buona Terra and now in Irving Park.

The couple are now putting the finishing touches on Hearth & Crust, 3608 W. Irving Park Road, aiming to begin service shortly after the Fourth of July.

While pizzas are a sure thing for the menu, which is still a work in progress, the restaurant's titular hearth will be used for plenty of other dishes, Eileen Garcia said.

Patrons should expect lots of grilled items — meats, veggies, fish — and comfort food, "but not like mac 'n' cheese," she said.

"Our influences are always centered on the Mediterranean, but also Asian and Latin. We love Middle Eastern, we love French food," she said.

Just don't come hungry for Italian — the Garcias don't want to poach business from Buona Terra.

It's been 15 years since the couple risked their life savings on their first restaurant. Eileen was a veteran of hotel dining operations, including the Four Seasons in New York City, and Jose had trained in kitchens across Chicago, among them Tuscany on Taylor, where the pair met.

"We signed the [Buona Terra] lease on Sept. 9, 2001," Eileen recalled. "We had a newborn, a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old."

Though the restaurant business has a reputation for being a brutal grind, it provided the Garcias with a surprising amount of work-life balance, Eileen said.

"We have a lot more freedom to choose our time together," she said. "Before, I couldn't pop in with an infant to my husband's work."

As their children grew, the couple searched for a more kid-friendly area to raise their family, and landed in Irving Park, right back in Eileen's childhood home.

While the neighborhood's spacious yards and tree-lined streets had much to recommend them, "one thing we realized was there was no place to eat in our neighborhood, just like when we owned in Logan Square," she said.

For the second time, the Garcias decided to fill the gap themselves.

They settled on the pizza idea quickly, but it took ages to find the right location. Unlike with Buona Terra, the couple was intent on buying, not leasing, and knew they would need a one-story building to meet requirements for venting a pizza oven.

The property on Irving Park Road eventually caught their attention. While it checked off their most boxes, the long-vacant storefront was also in need of some major renovations.

"There was a hole in the roof and where we're sitting was just joists; there was no floor," Eileen said of a bar stool near the restaurant's entrance.

"You would have fallen through to the basement," she said.

Once the building was brought up to code, Eileen turned her attention to the interior design.

She balanced the boxy building's straight lines with a curvy bar handmade of walnut wood, coated in resin.

"We liked the warmth of it," she said. "We want everyone to feel welcome."

Hearth & Crust's tables are made from the same wood, as are the bathroom stalls.

"Design should happen everywhere," Eileen said.

On the wall opposite the bar, she's hung dozens of pictures of hearts found in nature that were taken by a photographer friend. 

And then there's the actual hearth of Hearth & Crust, which lends the restaurant its literal and metaphorical meaning.

"Hearth connotes a warmth; people gather around a hearth," Garcia said. "Implicit is the homey feeling you get."

Eileen and Jose "Chepe" Garcia, owners of Hearth & Crust. The two met at Tuscany on Taylor and have been married for more than 20 years. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

The curvy bar, made of walnut wood.

The hearth of Hearth & Crust.

Sliding glass doors lead from the main dining room to an enclosed patio.

A series of "hearts in nature" photos lines the restaurant's west wall.