When Rob Wallace decided to open a new restaurant in Wilmette, he wasn’t setting out to create a fine dining destination. Taking over the location of the short-lived Bluette, he stripped out the blue décor and replaced its dark colors to create a cozy vibe. He added tapestries to damp down the noise and decided against carpet after watching a child splatter spaghetti everywhere.
When Wilmette Chop House opened March 27, he found that the décor had shaped the spot into a place where people came in sport coats and celebrated anniversaries. But the restaurant hasn’t only been embraced as a place to celebrate special occasions.
“We have a lot of repeat customers, a lot of young people and parties of 16 or 18, all from the community,” Wallace said. “It's nice for us since we get to meet so many of the neighbors. That's really our plan—to be here and provide a nice place for people to come to in the area at a reasonable price.”
Cooking with Grandma
Wallace’s mother had no interest in cooking. As a child, his family had many meals next door, at the home of his Sicilian grandmother.
“I've been cooking since I was a little kid,” Wallace said. “My great grandma let me play around with her scraps.”
In 1989, Wallace and his wife, Madonna, opened a bar with a popcorn machine. Then they graduated to running a bar with a grill. They managed The Green at Grant Park in Chicago and Cucina Madonna in Norwood Park. The Sauganash residents settled on Wilmette for their next venture because they wanted something with a short commute and good foot traffic.
“We like the area, it's not far from our house and it's a nice little community,” Wallace said. “We chose this because of the restaurants that are here. We thought it would be a great opportunity to bring something into the area that wasn't there.”
Keeping it Simple
The menu offers a mix of steakhouse and Italian fare. Chicken parmesan and filet mignon are the top sellers.
“We wanted it to be real simple,” Wallace said. “Everything on the menu is nothing you'd be intimidated by saying. If you can't say it, you're not going to order it. It's things we think people like and that we like.”
Those two things are not always the same, which resulted in the restaurant changing the menu four times in the first eight weeks. Wallace loves shrimp cocktail, but when he realized it wasn’t selling he started offering crab cocktail to provide more novelty. He’ll also periodically add specials based on what looks good when he’s shopping. When possible he tries to source locally, and by locally he means at stores that are just across the street. He uses meat from and bread from .
While Wallace does his work in the kitchen, Madonna’s can be seen throughout the restaurant. The walls are decked with her bright colored paintings, many featuring women drinking wine.
“She tells me she can cook, but I've never seen it,” Wallace said.