Friistyle Chicago is a new spot in the Bronzeville neighborhood that is taking that idea of Belgian-style frites, and adding a lot of familiar Chicago-style influences.
There is a rhythm to making French fries in-house, and it doesn't involve tearing open a frozen bag. Long before the frying, there is the relentless, monotonous cutting.
Giant Idaho russetts are placed lengthwise into a sturdy fry cutter, then a hand crank magically turns them into long batons. They must first be blanched, that is, fried at a slightly lower temperature, just to cook the insides. Then, when an order comes in, they must be fried again, to render them brown and crispy.
This ritual occurs throughout the day at Friistyle, located on a quiet block where the idea of Belgian frites gets a twist, thanks to a series of homemade toppings and sauces.
Fried chicken wings can be set atop a golden mound, then doused in barbecue sauce; pieces of cooked chicken can also be scattered across the top, blanketed in a rich alfredo sauce, and some grated Parmesan. They even have a Chicago-style Italian beef.
"Take the bread away and put some cheese sauce on it. Once we decided to do the cheese sauce, we said let's put the giardiniera in the cheese sauce," said Chef Chuck Graham.
Inspired by Chicago's love of gyros, they also do lamb.
"Instead of the actual gyro meat, we do a leg of lamb. So it is put in the oven and braised and it's shredded and we put the tzatziki sauce on it and it turns out really good," he said.
They also do an excellent Caribbean-inspired shrimp, with Gulf shrimp first sauteed in garlic butter. Meanwhile, crispy fries are drizzled in a pina colada crema; then the cooked shrimp is added, and finally, some finely-chopped pineapple salsa, and a little bit more crema to finish it off. If a full box seems like too much, you can also try a flight of flavors.
"You could try out different things because we have so many different options. You could try the three for $20 so you get three different options and then like a smaller portion of it so it's not too filling," said Graham.
There are a dozen sauces on the menu, all of them made in-house, and just because a certain sauce comes with a certain dish, like the giardiniera cheese sauce going with the Italian beef, doesn't mean you have to do that every time. You can get creative and mix and match sauces as well.
EXTRA COURSE: A couple of locally-made non-alcoholic drinks at Friistyle Chicago
5059 S. Prairie Ave., Chicago