I’M SO USED TO THE WAY IT USUALLY goes that when Zach Lucchese-Soto tells me he started with a food truck, I assume that the new restaurant Bluebird in Lakeview is his way out of the food truck. “No, we still have it,” he says.

“So you’re the rare guy who doesn’t find having a food truck impossible to sustain?” I ask.

“Oh no, it’s hard as hell,” he says. “Having a food truck is so much work, you wouldn’t even believe. It’s raining and it’s 40 degrees in May, but they’re out. They’ve serviced about 50 people today.”

It may be tough but he’s found ways to make it successful, so he’s keeping his truck, Haute & Ready, going with the brick and mortar location serving as both its commissary and a restaurant in its own right. That’s not to say that Bluebird is simply the truck in a stationary location—where the truck’s lunch menu offers various easily assembled sandwiches (a few of which are on Bluebird’s menu, like the California Club), the restaurant adds a fryer, and burgers as well as chicken sandwiches (including the inevitable Nashville Hot) and a shrimp po’boy.

Graziano OMG

“It’s classic American food with a twist of Southern cooking,” says Zach’s sister Liz, who helped him open it (but has since focused more on law school). I ask them if they’re from the South. “Actually, we’re from Lincoln Park,” she says. Both had restaurant experience growing up, and she helped manage Felice’s, which is a pizza place near Loyola run by students in the business school.

For Zach, the food truck, which mostly serves River North and the University of Chicago, sounds like it’s been all the education you could want. “It’s been growing and growing and growing. We added hot catering for corporate catering and private events—we’re a full-service catering company, which means we have our off-premise liquor license, we do open bar packages for weddings and stuff like that. There’s lots of festivals and stuff in the summer, and then the catering business fills in the winter months.”

Shrimp po’boy with mac and cheese

But a truck is not a home base. “We have steam tables and conveyor ovens, so we do everything fresh on the truck. But you still have to prep. And it just got to the point where we were using shared kitchens, always bumping into other companies and paying so much in hourly rates, that it just made sense to have a restaurant.”

You get the sense that the restaurant is not the only thing he has on his mind from the sparse, just-moved-in decor. But the attention has been paid to the menu, which not only has a good offering of types of sandwiches but offers duck fat fries (for those who miss Hot Doug’s), and a considerable range of house-concocted dipping sauce for fries—I especially like the Samurai sauce, which combines aioli, Sriracha and miso for a lot of umami per fried potato stick.

“At one point we were talking about having half this be the kitchen,” he says. “But then we decided, no, let’s open it more to the public, and get more creative, and have more items than we normally would.” The base menu will be expanded with specials—the first time I visited, he told me about a special of fried green tomatillos, which he admits was planned on the theory that a day in late May would be more than 40 degrees out.

If there’s a little more sophistication like that than you expect at first glance, Zach attributes it to where he learned a lot of the restaurant business—working for French chef Didier Durand at Cyrano’s Bistrot. “A lot of our techniques are kind of a blend of classic American and French techniques. So like our mac and cheese, it’s done in a very French way, finished off in a pan like I learned at the bistro.”

Gouda burger and fries with samurai sauce

“Hence a lot of things with duck,” he says. Or, for instance, the roasted chicken on the California Club, for which he recites a long list of spices in which it’s marinated overnight before roasting, so it’s not the bland white patty of styrochicken you usually get on such a sandwich. Or take the pesto chicken—”It’s kind of a different pesto. It’s a basil pesto, but with toasted almond, which I just think has a richer feel to it, really beefed out with a lot of good parmigiano.”

HP

It’s thinking like that that should set Bluebird apart and build up neighborhood business; I’ve been back for the chicken sandwich twice, kids in tow, since I first ran across the place—it’s really good. But the brick and mortar spot is a new chapter for Lucchese-Soto, who still sees the business a bit in the light of food truck war stories. “I got my start in the winter of the double polar vortex,” he says. “I remember it was minus ten degrees out, but the sun was out, and we still had people running outside, without their coats, to get food, because the sun was out and that made it a relatively okay day.”

“I still love the food truck,” he says. “I’d rather hire more people who want to learn, in a sort of creative environment, than shut down one operation to focus on the other.”

 


Michael Gebert believes in the fried bluebird sandwich of happiness as editor of Fooditor.


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