A permanent home for Thattu, a James Beard Award-nominated and Jean Banchet Award-winning Indian restaurant that began as a series of pop-up diners and a stall at a West Loop food hall, is under construction in Avondale, a short walk away. of Metropolitan Brewing Business and Food Incubator guild line.
The opening, slated for fall 2022, will be one of the most anticipated of the year thanks to Thattu’s unique spin on South Indian cuisine. Fans have been waiting for it since the stand pulled out of the Politan Row food hall in 2020 and upgraded to a pop-up model. Owners Vinod Kalathil and Margaret Pak’s goal was to break the mold of stereotypical Indian-American restaurants that focus on producing butter chicken and naan, flattering traditional American diners with an unhealthy fixation on spice and heat. .
Thattu serves the cuisine of Kerala, a coastal state in southwestern India where spices like cardamom and black pepper were first harvested, an important culinary capital of the world that has only caught the eye only recently in America. Regional specialties include grilled appams (fermented coconut milk rice cakes), beef curries and masala cookies. Chef Pak, who is Korean American, adapted recipes from Kalathil’s mother. Thattu will bring all of these recipes to Avondale, along with a full bar and room for retail space, since Pak noticed that Chicago doesn’t have many South Asian grocers between the cluster along Devon to West Ridge and Metro Spice Mart in West Loop. She wants to bring Indian pantry items, like a spice mix for rasam, tamarind broth, to a wider audience: “Patel Brothers can be intimidating,” says Pak, referring to the iconic restaurant chain. South Asian grocery store founded in Chicago.
Kalathil and Pak realize that Indian cuisine in America – like many international cuisines – can often be subject to unfair expectations from customers who are unaware of the food‘s origins and from members of the communities where the food originates. .
Kalathil and Pak try to escape this trap with fun recipes. For example, Pak played around with soba noodles with octopus and eel that use the same coconut milk base as his fish curry. It’s a bit more smoky and crunchy and shows how Thattu hopes to stand out.
“We don’t want anything to do with ‘authentic’,” says Kalathil.
The Avondale space also has a bar that will put Thattu in the middle of a recent surge of South Asian restaurants with high-flying cocktail programs, including Vajra, Superkhana International and Rooh.
Thattu started in 2018 with a series of pop-ups in places like Kimski in Bridgeport and Saigon Sisters in West Loop. Pak’s cooking won him a following, and Thattu was among Politan Row’s first line of vendors in 2019.
Pak and Kalathil’s journey to restaurant ownership differs from most others in the culinary world. The project is self-funded – both worked in the financial sector before leaving for restaurants. At Politan Row, the food hall closed since the pandemic led government officials to suspend indoor dining, they began looking for a permanent restaurant location. They had saved some money, so they were in no rush to find a place; they could afford to be picky. As their search continued, they entered into a partnership with Guild Row, a social club and coworking space for cooks and other creatives co-founded by Jim Lasko of the defunct Redmoon Theatre.
Using the Guild Row kitchen, Thattu continued their streak of pop-ups in 2021. They often sold food soon after announcing pre-orders via social media. Although this operation gave them the opportunity to try recipes, none of the potential dining spaces they considered worked. Thattu was about to sign a lease on a location in Lincoln Park, but the parties couldn’t finalize a deal. Other potential locations were too small. Others did not feel comfortable enough.
Little did Pak and Kalathil know, the perfect space was right across from Guild Row, a building for private events. At 2,900 square feet, it was a bit larger than expected, and the area — tucked away next to the Chicago River and near car dealerships — doesn’t attract much foot traffic. Developers have seen potential for new construction in the area, but – for now – it’s quiet. Kalathil knows they are taking a risk hoping the region will realize its potential, but they are confident in what Thattu can bring them.
“What I like the most, literally, is that it’s a blank canvas,” says Pak.
Kalathil adds: “We didn’t want fancy cuisine. It’s not just booking, it’s a kind of “enter, enjoy” space.”
The space, which will feature a garage door window to let the wind in to the main dining room and a sidewalk patio, is coming. Beyond restaurant and retail, the space offers more potential than others they had considered: “I always thought of a chai store,” says Kalathil.
Thattu3118 N. Rockwell Street, slated to open in the fall.