By Jenny B. Davis
Chef Joncarl Lachman spent the evening of February 13th sitting in an empty restaurant drinking Champagne.
He hadn’t expected much of a crowd so close to Valentine’s Day, but record snowfall put the kibosh on any hope of business that night, so he decided against opening. Instead, he split his bottle of bubbly with the people who happened to be there at the moment—his partner, a waiter and a plumber.
The unlikely trio was only too happy to lift their glasses to Lachman. It was, after all, his first night as the chef and owner of the new restaurant, HB Home Bistro.
HB isn’t exactly a new restaurant. The Boystown eatery originally opened in 2005 as HB A Hearty Boys Spot, the name a nod to the celebrity moniker of its owners, Food Network TV stars Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh.
Lachman was involved from the beginning. An award-winning chef and a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Lachman had worked in high-profile kitchens in New York City and Washington D.C., including a stint as the executive chef of Urban Epicure in Andersonville.
As HB’s executive chef, Lachman quickly built a dedicated dining base of regulars. The reasonably priced, seasonal American menu contributed to its popularity, as did its BYOB status and waived corkage fee. While Lachman kept everyone in the narrow dining room well fed, the Hearty Boys focused on the meet-and-greet—that is, when they weren’t away taping an episode or catering a function.
By late 2006, the Hearty Boys were juggling the restaurant, the show, the catering business and a forthcoming cookbook (“Talk with Your Mouth Full” drops this fall)—plus they had added a baby to the mix. Which meant something had to give. And that something was HB.
“We had so many coals in the fire and were going in so many different directions that we were afraid of not doing anything well,” McDonagh says. “[HB] is such a lovely, intimate space, and it works best when the owner is there.”
It was only natural for Lachman to become the next owner, says McDonagh. “His goal has always been to open a restaurant, and because he was a main force behind the opening of HB, it was his baby, too.” And perhaps most importantly, McDonagh adds, “He is a very dear friend. We trust him completely and his food is outstanding.”
So the deal went forward. And in a matter of months, HB officially belonged to Lachman and his partner of seven years, Bob Moysan.
“It feels different, but in an easy, warm way,” Lachman says from his seat at a corner table near the restaurant’s front window. “I can’t explain it—I am just proud and humbled at the same time. I can’t believe it, and then I feel like I’ve earned it. And there’s always the fear that you’ll open and no one will come.”
So far, that hasn’t happened. In fact, business is better than it’s ever been, Lachman says. Even the ad hoc art gallery they launched on the restaurant’s rugged brick walls—the current exhibition is a collection of black-and-white photography by Moysan—is doing well.
Lachman hasn’t made any significant changes to HB, and he doesn’t plan to. (Yes, that means the BYOB policy will stay.) But he and Moysan have done some things to add their personal stamp to the place and to quietly enhance the dining experience. “I didn’t want to make changes just to make changes,” Lachman says. “But there were some things that I had in my mind.”
Perhaps the most noticeable change is the new name—HB remains, but it now stands for Home Bistro. Then there’s the addition of the art. The furniture is also new, with sturdy albeit nondescript chairs replacing the mismatched flea-market finds. The campy “hunky waiter” coffee mugs are also gone, although Lachman insists with a laugh that the actual hunky waiters have stuck around.
The menu still feels familiar, with its emphasis on beautifully prepared, honest food made with fresh, seasonal and often locally sourced ingredients. That’s apparent in entrees like the herb-marinated hanger steak with salsa verde and roasted tomato butter and truffle fries ($20), the double-cut pork chop with butternut squash mash and whisky-glazed apples ($19) and the appetizer of brown-sugar-baked almond stuffed dates wrapped in bacon ($11). Brunch menu standards are also still there, like the “almost famous” pancakes ($9) and the bananas foster deep fried French toast ($8).
Take a closer look, though, and you’ll see that Lachman has added some interesting flavors and preparations that he’s derived directly from his Dutch heritage. There are mussels prepared “Amsterdam-style,” in beer butter with garlic, basil and anise ($9) along with added dashes of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—spices that hark back to the days of Holland’s South East Asia involvement.
Ideally, Lachman wants HB to convey the feeling of what’s called an eetcafe in Holland. “These cafes are unpretentious, cozy and comfortable,” he explains. “And it’s like that here—we have that welcoming feeling where customers come in and they feel like it’s their restaurant, they feel like they have an ownership in it.”
HB Home Bistro is located at 3404 North Halsted, (773)661-0299.