The Finery + Blacksmith Bar
Ryan and I hadn’t had the opportunity to dine at The Finery + Blacksmith Bar yet, so I contacted Juliette to see if we could meet with her during our first visit and learn more about what brought her, her husband David, and their vision to the Fox Valley. Juliette was incredibly sweet and welcoming to the idea, and I could tell from the get-go that she was passionate about her craft.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we were immediately taken with the industrial details throughout the place. We stepped immediately into the bar area, which has sleek white counters and metal and wood bar-stools that lie underneath warm, glowing Edison bulbs. The back of the bar is tiled with white subway tiles that give a bright look to the display of craft beer and whiskey available to their guests.
We sat at one of the bar-height tables, where we met with Juliette – straight out of the kitchen in her chef’s attire – and chatted for awhile about their story.
Juliette dove right in and explained that after working in restaurants in the Chicago area, she and David (friends at the time) both went down to Louisiana to assist in opening a fine dining restaurant at a Bed and Breakfast halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It was here that their romance began to blossom.
After about a year, Juliette decided to finish culinary school in Illinois, and it wasn’t long before David followed her back and they were engaged. David worked as a concept chef for a large company, while Juliette worked in Chicago at well-known Spiaggia, as well as at a top steakhouse in the suburbs.
After moving out to West Chicago to be near family, they both wanted a place to visit that reflected the city vibe they grew up around (she's from the northwest side and he's from Humboldt Park), but weren’t able to find many dining experience that matched just that. Wanting to move their culinary careers in a new direction, they committed to the goal of opening their own restaurant and began looking at spots in Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Geneva, and St. Charles.
The building where The Finery + Blacksmith Bar now resides stood out to the couple because of its rich history. Juliette explained it was the location of the first blacksmith shop in St. Charles, and was also part of the Underground Railroad. She describes the basement of the building as cavernous, with endless nooks and crannies throughout. They felt that it was such a huge part of the town’s history, and that it would be a perfect place to make The Finery + Blacksmith Bar a part of the community. They then set out to create a cool dining concept focused around the unique history of the building.
She and David put in a lot of hours and hard work customizing the space themselves in an effort to stay on budget with funding their dream. The previous space was segmented by walls and enveloped by baby blue paint, so they opened up the flow of the space, sanded and stained the original (wow!) hardwood floors, put up wallpaper, and spent hours tiling the walls. Juliette thinks her tiling days might be over, however, as she ended up with her foot in the bucket of tile adhesive on her way down from the ladder. This resulted in a concrete-style boot on her foot that proved to be a bit inconvenient.
There are family touches throughout as well – the curtains you see are hand-sewn by David’s mother, and other family members helped paint and do small projects. After four months of work, they created the sheek, rustic feel they were going for. Julitette attributes the success of the remodel to the skills and attention to detail they’ve learned through cooking, and says those same skills translate over to the detail in the interior design. She often hears customers comment that they feel like they are dining in the city, which is exactly the environment they were aiming to create.
The menu itself is a time-intensive collaboration between Juliette and David. Prior to opening in July 2015, they went through at least 6 or 7 drafts of the menu before they settled on what they felt would bring an “ode to the American table”. Having opened over 30 restaurants around the country, David has no shortage of recipes or menu ideas, and Juliette brings a unique gastronomic artistry to the plating of the dish from her experience working in Michelin-Starred restaurants. They work backwards on their menu by creating a sketch of what they want the dish to look like, and then identify the ingredients and flavors that will help them achieve their vision. Their American contemporary approach to food allows them to combine their French, classical techniques with an array of foods and flavors from locally-sourced farms such as Heritage Prairie Farms in Elburn, and they aim to make everything from scratch. The menu changes seasonally to match the fresh ingredients that are available in the area.
Talking about the creation of their menu made our mouths water, so we soon sat down to eat in their main dining room. Brick walls, white flowing curtains, and artfully-weathered chairs fit perfectly into the area. Our server introduced herself and asked if we wanted drinks - I opted for a Pinot Noir (go figure) and Ryan ordered an Old Fashioned – Rye (also go figure). Both looked great in the warm light from the western windows we were seated against.
After a little debate (it all looked so good!) our server helped us decide what to order. We started with the daily bread, which featured two flavored, hand-spun butters – a carrot curry and a tarragon blackberry. We then split a grilled caesar, which Ryan dubbed as the best caesar salad he’s tasted. The poached egg was a surprisingly good touch!
At Juliette’s recommendation, I ordered the Scallops + Company as my main dish, which featured pan seared scallops, sautéed clams, crispy brandade, cannellini beans, and asparagus in a smoked paprika broth. It was wonderfully flavorful and bursting with color.
Ryan opted for the Flat Iron Steak, prepared with chimichurri, calabrese potatoes, watercress, pickled onion, and parmesan fondue. Ryan thought it was incredible, and the presentation of the dishes made me understand Juliette’s comment about gastronomic artistry.
We aren’t dessert people, so we opted to get a second round of drinks instead. The wine coordinator stopped by our table to introduce himself, and encouraged us to touch base with him anytime we had a pairing question. It was great to know we had a way to customize our dining experience further!
David and Juliette are bringing more of their culinary touch to the Fox Valley area, with The Grandstander opening in Geneva in just a few weeks. Ryan and I look forward to visiting their new concept as soon as it opens!