CHICAGO (WLS) -- One of Chicago's most unique - and critically-acclaimed - restaurants has pre-emptively closed its dining room for good, re-launching with a new mission: to get customers to cook more.
Fat Rice is no more. So say hello instead to Super Fat Rice Mart, which combines two things: the restaurant's Portuguese and Macanese pedigree and the idea of supplying adventurous eaters with a road map for creating delicious meals at home.
Fat Rice always had a tiny dining room, seating around 40 people at peak capacity. Running a restaurant that could only accommodate half that amount would not be sustainable, so the partners came up with a new plan: get the delicious Macanese, Portuguese and Asian recipes into the hands of people who really loved to eat, by taking care of all of the prep.
In a space that used to be a dining room, an employee assembled coconut flour and candied ginger in tiny containers as part of a meal kit.
This is the new normal at Super Fat Rice Mart, where the former Fat Rice used to serve dine-in customers.
"Fat Rice still exists. Fat Rice still is going to make all the delicious things that we normally made but we're just going to share them in different ways," said Chef and Co-owner Abe Conlon.
Conlon and his partner, Adrienne Lo, have created "Super Value Cook Kits" and "Super Mystery Boxes," vegan and gluten-free so customers can add your own proteins. Each kit comes with several meals prepped and measured for convenience.
"We're doing all organic produce in all of these packs and then yes, people can add whatever they like - we have suggestions as to what people can add," he said.
Turnips from Frillman Farms in Prairie View might highlight one meal, while thick purple asparagus from Klug Farms in Michigan and locally foraged ramps highlight others.
Lo assembles dozens of containers of sofrito - an earthy amalgam of peppers, onions, smoky paprika and olive oil, plus cumin and black pepper.
"It's going to be topped with this lemon pickle - sliced lemon with hot Calabrian chilies and a chili oil," she said.
You can also buy imported goods like mango pulp, shrimp crackers and coconut milk from their extended pantry.
For each recipe, Conlon cooks while Lo takes copious notes. As he dry roasts asparagus with sliced oranges, garlic and dried chilies, Lo tries to keep up.
Fermented black beans finish off the stir-fry, which he then plates and garnishes with fried shallots, just like he would if he were serving guests in a restaurant.
"You can be fancy at home with your asymmetrical plating too, you know what I mean?" said Conlon.
Conlon says this new, albeit less interactive, environment is giving them a chance to reimagine what a restaurant in Chicago could look like in 2020 and potentially beyond.
"To run a full-service restaurant takes an incredible amount of effort. Even pre-virus we were already having some challenges of operating safely, getting everybody the wages they deserved, creating financial stability for us as business owners. It was a very difficult model and I think this is a great opportunity for us and other restaurateurs and other chefs to look at what is a kinder, gentler restaurant in the future," he said.
If you do buy the "Super Value Cook Kit" or the "Super Mystery Box" it will, like a video game, "unlock" an opportunity to buy other delicious things like chili prawns or dumplings.
Super Fat Rice Mart
2957 W. Diversey
Friday 4 - 7 pm
Sat. 11 am - 2 pm
Fat Rice has become Super Fat Rice Mart, swapping out dining in for a unique meal kit experience at home
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