DarkHorse by Sal’s to open in former Sujeo space

Patrick DePula, Jed Spink and John Jerabek team up

The floodgates are about to open for three culinary creatives who have partnered on a new venture together.

Patrick DePula, Jed Spink and John Jerabek plan to open DarkHorse by Sal’s in the former Sujeo space at 10 N. Livingston St., and the possibilities are seemingly endless with this new concept that DePula describes as “a bit more rock ‘n roll than Sal’s is.”

DarkHorse will allow creative freedom with a focus on plates to share, fresh pasta dishes, plus 10-inch pizzas for those who crave a Sal’s-style pie. Spink, who on Dec. 1 will put in his last day after three and a half years as executive chef of RED, is part-owner and executive chef of DarkHorse.

“We can do anything we want,” Spink says. “We’re not going to be a themed restaurant. We’re the dark horse. Be ready for surprises.”

DePula, who has become known for his tomato pies served at the Sun Prairie and East Johnson Street locations of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, signed the lease with his partners on Monday, and they hope to open DarkHorse by mid-January. Jerabek, who has been Sal’s culinary director for five years, will now act as culinary director for all three restaurants.

DarkHorse by Sal’s to open in former Sujeo space

“This restaurant is a different concept,” says DePula. They plan to expand the bar considerably, putting to use a full liquor license. From the way DePula, Jerabek and Spink describe possible menu items, it sounds like DarkHorse will offer Chef’s Week-level dishes for dine-in meals, plus quickly executed dishes for lunch and on nights when nearby venues have events.

“It will be creative and high quality, but the goal is to have lunch be quick with some grab-and-go items as well,” DePula says. The restaurant is housed in the bottom level of The Constellation apartment building, located on a fast-growing stretch of East Washington Avenue, also home to The Sylvee, Breese Stevens Field and 33,000 square feet of office space. Originally they were looking at locations outside of Madison for DarkHorse, DePula says. “But when the Sujeo space became available, that seemed like that was an ideal fit,” he says.

Their plans for the dinner menu traverse many different types of cuisine, often adding a modern twist on classic dishes.

“You’re going to be familiar with some of the dishes’ names, but you’re not going to know what’s coming fully,” Spink says.

Spink gave a few examples of the DarkHorse dish ideas he has, including an Italian beef, but instead of giving customers what they might expect — a Chicago-style sandwich dipped in au jus — he might offer a braised short rib with Italian veal jus, smoked Swiss cheese custard, house-made giardiniera and toasted bread on the side. “It’s more of a dish and not a sandwich. Far from a sandwich,” Spink says. “It’s going to have those flavors that you love, but it’s going to be conceptually different.”

Other dish ideas DePula and Spink have include a Scotch egg (like the Asian fusion version Spink created for a past Chef Week event at Sal’s), a broccoli and cheese dish (similar to one Spink created at RED) and carnitas (but it will be more than just shredded pork and salsa, Spink says).

“DarkHorse gives me the opportunity do any kind of fusion that I want,” Spink says. “And I don’t even like the word fusion, per say, because I really feel like it’s more “modern American,” because that is American [cuisine]. We’re so diverse.”

DarkHorse by Sal’s to open in former Sujeo space

DarkHorse’s fresh pasta dishes will also have creative elements, DePula says. “We’re going to have some fun with classics,” says DePula, who offers entrees and plates to share at the Sun Prairie Sal’s. “We’ll have pasta, but maybe there’s nori butter in it.” Some of the other pasta dishes DarkHorse plans to have include cacio e pepe and a classic Bolognese.

“It’s going to be really nice to have a pasta maker of our own,” says Jerabek, who worked at L’Etoile when he first moved to Madison, then worked in Wisconsin Dells for a while before putting in almost 10 years with Food Fight Inc.

Four to six varieties of 10-inch tomato pies will be the only option at DarkHorse — those who want a 16-inch pie can head just a few blocks away to the Sal’s on East Johnson Street, Jerabek says.

Jerabek says the team is excited to have more creative freedom due to this restaurant’s location. “The scene is a little bit different,” he says. “Being downtown Madison I think lets us be a little bit more adventurous.”

And, of course, there will be a focus on local, seasonal ingredients. “Is it even worth mentioning that’s what we do? Because that’s what we do,” says DePula.

DePula says he likes the energy that Sujeo’s late-night noodle bar used to have. “That’s going to stay, except we’re modifying it a bit,” DePula says. The kitchen will be in view from the dining room, which will also undergo a lot of changes, he says. Supreme Structures Inc., the builder for the Sun Prairie Sal’s, will do the DarkHorse buildout.

DePula says Spink came on board with DePula and Jerabek’s restaurant plans after conversations took place following an event they all did together one night. “I’ve always respected [Spink] as a cook and think that he does an awesome job,” DePula says.

Before Spink joined the RED team, he had experience as executive chef at the west-side Eno Vino Wine Bar & Bistro as well as working as culinary retail manager and sous chef of Monona Catering.

Spink says it felt like the right time for him to step into restaurant ownership. “Pat, myself and John, we see eye to eye,” he says. “We’ve all been chefs before. It’s an industry that’s tiring and it can wear you out, and we’re trying to make it more sustainable. … It’s important to all of us to not be killing ourselves and just enjoy what we’re doing.”