As the team behind River North hot spots Mercadito and Tavernita, Alfredo, Felipe and Patricio Sandoval know how to produce a restaurant that combines gourmet food with a see-and-be-seen vibe. But for Little Market Brasserie, its third Chicago restaurant — and the second with chef/partner Ryan Poli at the helm — the group took a more low-key approach. “We wanted a casual neighborhood restaurant that wasn’t a scene, but was still bustling,” says Poli. “So we thought a lot about what people look for when they go to a place two or three times a week.”
For Poli, the answer was comfort food, served at a reasonable price point in a laid-back environment and Little Market is doing all of the above from inside the Talbott Hotel. The space evokes a Parisian brasserie, with subway tiles covering the walls, big wooden banquettes and a checkered floor. To find the right blend of French and American food to match, Poli and Alfredo traveled to nearly a dozen cities for research, including Austin, Texas; Montreal; New York; and New Orleans. “It’s casual, simple, recognizable cuisine,” says Poli. “You can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner there, but each meal feels cool.”
For breakfast, which starts at 6:30 a.m., Poli serves classics like biscuits and gravy ($12.50); his lunch and dinner fare includes roast chicken with couscous and dried fruits ($18.50), risotto ($14.50), a NY strip (market price) and sides such as mac and cheese and french fries. But Poli didn’t just pay homage to classic brasserie food when crafting the menu — he mixed in some of his personal favorites. “The pasta puttanesca is a sauce I learned early in my career, and the grilled cheese is one that I make myself at home,” he says. And then there’s the Big Baby, a simple two-patty cheeseburger inspired by the one offered at Nicky’s, a greasy spoon on the Southwest Side where Poli grew up. The eclectic fare pairs perfectly with Little Market’s charged cocktails — custom pairings of gourmet sodas (think hibiscus vanilla and Meyer lemon) and spirits created by the Tippling Bros.
The menu is a welcome departure for Poli, who crafts authentic Spanish cuisine at Tavernita. “It’s a challenge to cook with butter and cream again,” he laughs. “But it’s great to get back to familiar ingredients.”