By Jean Lotus
It's a burger and beer joint — with something more.
Scratch Kitchen, Forest Park's newest restaurant, will be "an urban sandwich and artisan canned beer bodega," according to its website and chef Patrick O'Brien.
"Diner food with an attitude" is how O'Brien characterized the menu Monday. The restaurant at 7445 Madison Street is still undergoing finishing touches and is scheduled to open in "a couple of weeks," said O'Brien.
The space formerly housed Deko's, a late-night Mexican joint that abruptly closed down last December when proprietor Mario Carrera, 47, was arrested in a DEA drug sting and charged with selling cocaine from the restaurant.
But that's the past.
O'Brien has worked as a chef for 23 years. He formerly owned the Lathrop House restaurant and worked at Cucina Pardiso and Avenue Alehouse in Oak Park. He grew up in River Forest and went to Fenwick High School.
"Working white tablecloth for a lot of my life, I didn't see a lot of down-home cooking," he said. "I'm looking for a funky little sandwich place with different ways of doing things."
His partner is John Downs, of Brookfield, who owns Bartini Bar and Grill in North Riverside.
O'Brien plans to house-grind his beef from chuck and brisket cuts and will also offer lamb and vegetarian burgers. Hand-cut fries will be made from the "ripest potatoes" and include seasonings such as white truffle and garlic, he said.
"Everything is made from scratch, from our pretzel buns to our house-brined pickles all the way down to homemade catsup and mustard," O'Brien said.
The menu will also feature revolving "comfort food" nights, such as "Italian Monday night," "wild game night," and "vegetarian night," he said. "People first think it's meat-heavy, but I do a lot of vegetarian cooking." Mac-and-cheese is also prominent on the menu.
With a tight space, O'Brien is hoping to seat around 50 in the restaurant. "It'll be cozy seating, elbow to elbow," he said.
He's installed an all-new industrial kitchen and a bar. O'Brien said he was hoping to not only welcome guests for lunch but become a hangout for "the over-30 crowd" after 10 p.m. when he hopes to host live acoustic music and group activities like trivia nights. An LP record is incorporated into his logo because of the importance of music in his life, he said. He even hopes to hold televised concert-viewing nights with special menu choices named for the band or music.
As for the canned beer, O'Brien said canned craft beers are much easier on the environment than bottles (because of shipping costs associated with glass) and that all of his beer cans will be recycled.
"The cans are works of art now from these microbreweries. We'll be displaying them," he said. Wine will be available as well. But rather than carry an exhaustive wine list, he will offer a couple of options.
"Box or better?" is how servers will pitch the wine, which comes in two price tiers, $3-4 from a box or a more expensive vintage for $10, O'Brien said.
Throwing a kid party? O'Brien will cater your event with a traveling barbeque and deejay experience, all housed on an antique fire truck that brings the party to your backyard.
O'Brien said he enjoys the sports bar atmosphere on Madison Street, but he wanted to offer "something that's not there already."
"This is definitely a place for Foodies. This is not a bar. It's a restaurant with beer paired with food."