Chef Erick Williams, formerly of mk restaurant on the North Side, has converted the space at 53rd and Harper into Virtue Restaurant and Bar.
"Virtue is Southern American cooking at its best. We focus on two twin virtues - hospitality and kindness," Williams said. "Hyde Park happens to be one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago by way of economic diversity, by way of ethnicity."
EXTRA COURSE: 2 of Virtue's stellar desserts
And to serve that community, Williams is taking inspiration from all over the American South.
Plump Gulf shrimp swaddled in a creamy remoulade are paired with lightly-breaded fried green tomatoes served beneath tender.
"It gives you a difference in texture," he said. "They go well with the creaminess of the condiment and then you get the crunch from the fried green tomato and the texture from the fried green tomato, so for me that's a perfect appetizer."
Delicata squash is roasted hard, served with coconut "cheese" you could swear is a tropical-tasting feta, along with fresh mint and pecans. It's a perfect balance of seasonality with a sense of place and plenty of texture.
Creamed spinach and mashed potatoes form the base for a short rib that's been braised and then topped with homemade onion rings. Biscuits are a given here, but the soft butter and the assertive pimento cheese only serve to increase their attractiveness. Slowly cooked collard greens get a top knot of smoked turkey that you may want to sandwich between slices of bread and call it a day.
Everything on Williams' menu has been thoroughly considered, tested and then executed with precision.
"We're gonna take a multi-faceted approach to bringing the South back together as it pertains to dinner," he said. "I don't think there's a place in the city that really captures that essence quite the way we want to do it."
Virtue is without a doubt one of the warmest, most inviting restaurants to have opened in the city recently, and the fact that the food just happens to be fantastic makes you want to root for them even more.
1462 E. 53rd St.