Until 2020, Dusek’s was the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Pilsen, a rare spot south of Roosevelt Road. Located on the ground floor of the Thalia Hall concert hall, the restaurant encompasses a unique neighborhood history dating back to the 1890s. During the pandemic, the owners chose to keep the restaurant closed without starting a take-out operation.
Finally, last week – Friday May 14 – the restaurant reopened with a new chef and a renovated space. Concerts are also back at Thalia Hall.
“The closure has been so devastating,” says 16-year-old Bruce Finkelman at the Center, which owns the entertainment complex and places like Empty Bottle and Revival Food Hall. “But it gave us the opportunity to do some of the things we really wanted to do, but we didn’t have the financial means.”
While Michelin-starred attention was welcome, Finkelman believes the space has earned a reputation as a shot and beer heaven, where locals can grab a “tasty and honest” meal and be out in a flash. The design changes aren’t drastic, but they help create a bit more synergy between the different spaces in the building. Thalia Hall consists of Dusek’s, the Punch Room basement bar and the Tack Room, a cocktail bar behind Dusek’s.
Finkelman says they worked on the seats with the bench seats. They added window seats and made the wood-fired oven the star of the kitchen.
“I don’t know if they’re big or small,” says Finkelman. “They seem really nice to us.”
Veteran Chicago chef Ben Truesdell (Pacific Standard Time) was on the opening team at Dusek’s eight years ago. He returns as the restaurant’s top chef and Finkelman is delighted with his commitment to sustainability. The chef says he is delighted to be back in the kitchen and to be surrounded by quality ingredients. During the pandemic, restaurants made budget cuts and turned to achievement. Cutting spending also meant cutting spending on more expensive menu items. The result is that Truesdell and the other kitchen workers have seldom had the chance to cook with premium products like fresh fish from sustainable sources.
But those dark days seem to be over. Some notable new dishes at Dusek you’ll find a pork schnitzel sandwich, lamb neck pappardelle and baked squid. There is also a roast chicken served on a hot Caesar escarole salad. The greens pick up the smoke from the oven, which creates a more complex flavor, says Truesdell. He completes the menu with Buffalo chicken wings and a grilled cheeseburger. A weekend brunch is launched this weekend.
“We wanted to be more accessible in all aspects,” says Finkelman.
This is important because of the area, as creating a restaurant that is welcoming to locals is important in Pilsen, where gentrification has long been a hot topic. Finkelman believes he has established a relationship of trust with the neighborhood and is delighted to welcome clients to the space.
But there will be a small adjustment for customers and staff after being locked in the home for the majority of the pandemic. It will take time for customers to revel as before: “I think there’s going to be a psychological barrier and people are going to have to get used to socializing again,” says Finkelman.
There are also safety concerns, including wearing masks during indoor concerts. Dusek’s has remained closed to the general public since March 2020. The kitchen has prepared meals for the less fortunate, and more recently the space has made small private buyouts for
“We’ve really waited to do anything until the government or the CDC or medical leaders tell us it’s safe to do it,” Finkelman adds.