Highland Park’s Benjamin Restaurant may be Benjamin Brittsan’s first, but the ambitious chef already dreams of owning more.
The Winnetka resident studied pastry at Kendall College and Cooking Hospitality of Chicago and has cooked under chefs Gale Gand and Rick Tramonto of the now shuttered Brasserie T.
“I’m taking some of the concepts and trends from the city and bringing them here,” Brittsan said.
After graduation, Brittsan worked at in Northbrook. He got into catering and working as a private chef on the North Shore, where he gained useful experience for his restaurant venture, which opened in August at 1849 Second St.
“I want to start slow, but I want to include all the catering, the wine dinners, the cooking classes,” Brittsan said. “Dinner parties are probably my favorite thing to do ever.”
When the chef started looking into opening his own restaurant, a family friend pointed him at the space once occupied by Mimosa restaurant.
“I fell in love with the town of Highland Park,” Brittsan said. “The people are amazing. It’s like a mini-downtown Chicago.”
Benjamin Restaurant is the product of two years of work that shows Brittsan’s impressive attention to detail. The space is designed by Tim Kitzrow, who also is responsible for Chicago’s Red No. 5 and Blue 13. The eclectic decor comes from around the world, including furniture from Malaysia and India and big lanterns from a Hungarian castle.
Other furnishings are repurposed items. The bar was once a buffet table and a door has been wrapped with zebra print fabric and turned into a mirror.
On the food side, Benjamin Restaurant offers seasonal contemporary American cuisine with ingredients from farms in Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. Its menu will change quarterly, with the first shift happening Oct. 1.
The drink menu will match the changing list of dishes. Benjamin offers Michigan wines and a small selection of locally produced beers from Goose Island and New Holland. As the weather gets cooler, diners will find more porters and heavier reds. The handcrafted cocktails will also shift from blends made with fresh berries to novel concoctions using butternut squash.
“A lot of people say they’re local but they’re not,” Brittsan said. “They’re not seasonal in the winter. You can’t have strawberries in the winter and be local.”
Plates may have some touches of molecular gastronomy like watermelon caviar, but for the most part Brittsan said his goal is to find great produce and cook it simply to let is speak for itself. He is also considering sharing his knowledge of how to pick local produce with others by hosting a farmers market in the restaurant’s parking lot and taking a class shopping before a meal.
“Everybody should be shopping locally,” Brittsan said. “It’s funny that it’s now a trend when it should be a way of life.”
Brittsan is aware of the challenges of opening a new business in a bad economy and says he’s endeavoring to keep his prices as reasonable as possible. Flatbreads are $12, salads are $11, appetizers are $6 to $20 and entrees go from $17 for burgers to $35 for filet mignon.
“The economy is turning around, slowly but surely,” he said. “Yeah, people’s pocketbooks have been stretched, but everyone has to eat.”