Middlewest: Five things to get excited about

Jonny Hunter tells us about the Underground...
Middlewest: Five things to get excited about

The Underground Food Collective is expanding its creative focus yet again with Middlewest, the highly anticipated restaurant to open on Willy Street, and Jonny Hunter offers us a small taste of what we’re in for. He’s not quite sure when the restaurant planned for 811 Williamson St. (behind the Underground Butcher building) will open, but the concept is set and design is taking shape. Hunter has indicated it could still be in 2015 that Middlewest opens, but maybe not until 2016. Here are five things you can get excited about in the meantime.

Creative dishes are pretty much guaranteed. Middlewest’s mantra and namesake center on letting Midwest-grown food shine. They’ll constrain themselves to only using ingredients from our neck of the woods. By limiting options, it increases their ability to be creative, Hunter says. “When you live in the Midwest and you have to work with root vegetables for four months of the year because you have nothing else, how do you make that taste fresh and delicious?” Focusing on flavor and heat will play a big part, Hunter says, as will corn–one of bedrocks of American agriculture.

The wood hearth oven is going to enhance the flavor of everything. All of the food that lands on your plate will have been through the wood hearth oven in the center of the room at Middlewest. That’s the only system of cooking this place will have. The oven will include a wood-fire grill, a plancha and a rotisserie. If you’re having trouble picturing it, it’ll be similar to this grill at Camino, an Oakland, California, restaurant. You might immediately think of a meat-heavy menu with that kind of setup, but that’s definitely not the case, Hunter says. “We think fire and wood make things taste better in general, so we’re going to be working on lots of vegetable dishes and drawing on that source as how the restaurant will function,” he says.

It will have a whole different feel from Forequarter. The Middlewest menu will be easier to read. The space will be more relaxed and casual. You’ll be able to make a reservation Monday through Sunday. There’ll be seventy seats, which is more than double the space of Forequarter’s thirty, which mean there’s less worrying about a wait or not finding a seat at the bar right away. When the patio is open, there will be about one hundred seats. Hunter says they’ve kind of turned into farmers and gardeners in the process of designing the space. Inside, there’ll be a ton of indoor plants, reclaimed wood, vines hanging from the ceiling and a full tree used for structure. Outside, they’re basically building an urban garden, he says.

You’ll forget everything you thought you knew about what familiar food tastes like. Middlewest’s focus is on satisfaction, which translates to dishes that are simple but detail-heavy. The people at Middlewest want to really understand how something cooks so it turns what could just be grilled chicken with a green sauce into a dish you feel like you’ve never tasted before. Cooking with fire also offers unique flavors that can’t be replicated, Hunter says. He will work closely with the development of dishes along with the chef in the kitchen, Jon Shuran, a UFC butcher.

There’s one more reason to love Willy Street. Middlewest joins a distinguished line-up of great eateries on Williamson Street, which has quite the food reputation to uphold. Hunter envisions Middlewest as being a more relaxed place to eat dinner, (and maybe brunch, too) but still maintain a level of quality you’d come to expect from not just a Williamson Street restaurant, but an extension of the Underground Food Collection. That definitely fits the bill in this laid-back neighborhood.

Click here for “Chef of the Year 2015: Jonny Hunter is breaking all the rules”

Click here for “Forequarter: The little restaurant with big taste”

Click here for “A magical farm dinner in Avoca, Wisconsin”

Middlewest: Five things to get excited about