Powerhouse chef Jonathon Sawyer debuts a fiery new culinary concept at the Willis Tower.
The opening of this 17,000-square-foot restaurant has made Willis Tower a major Loop dining destination.
“Kindling is the most ambitious restaurant to open in the Loop,” says James Beard Award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer. And given the recently opened restaurant’s impressive bill of fare, Julieta Campos’ (The Whistler) beverage program and the sheer scale of the 17,000-square-foot space inside the Willis Tower, it’s safe to say that Sawyer isn’t just blowing smoke. The Chicago-born chef-partner brings with him a wealth of experience, including launching Adorn Bar & Restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and putting Cleveland on the culinary map with the opening of his first eatery, The Greenhouse Tavern.
The Super Baja grilled chicken club with Nueske’s bacon, bibb lettuce, avocado, mighty vine tomato and cilantro salsa verde.
“Our goal is to be a part of the renaissance of the Loop by offering Chicagoans a one-of-a-kind dining experience in one of the most iconic addresses in our city,” Sawyer adds of the new concept from The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, which brought us Utopian Tailgate, The Berkshire Room, VU Skyward and more.
Whether for a corporate cocktail hour, an intimate lunch meeting or a seated dinner with friends and family, the restaurant hosts private events for up to 300 guests.
The main attraction at Kindling | Downtown Cookout & Cocktails, designed by KTGY Simeone Deary Design Group (St. Jane Hotel, LondonHouse Chicago), is a 13 ½-foot live-fire grill—one of the city’s largest—in the center of the show kitchen. “We’re able to harness the power of the hearth to incorporate unique and deep flavors from the fire throughout the entire menu,” says Sawyer. “We use the flavor of fire as the narrative that incorporates a range of global flavors, seasonal ingredients and several of my signature dishes, such as the world famous confit chicken wings [with charred jalapeno, garlic, lime and scallion], onto the menu.” The brine-marinated roasted chicken, which takes three days to prepare from bird to plate, paired with mashed potatoes, brown butter gravy and crispy twice-cooked chicken skin, is an instant standout. Another popular plate is the mouthwatering mac ’n cheese gratin prepared with smoked brown butter breadcrumbs, Torchio pasta and a trio of cheeses including a proprietary blend of Red Barn 5-year-aged cheddar. Sawyer’s pro tip for taking things up a notch? Upgrade that mac with a wood-grilled lobster or a piece of wood-fired foie gras. He also recommends every table order an item from the Steaks & Chops section because, as he notes, “the oak wood we use from Wisconsin is truly singular in the flavor it imparts. It’s like no other steak that’s being served in Chicago.”
The artfully plated twice-cooked sweet potato
It’s no surprise Kindling has continued to make waves since its opening given Sawyer’s A-list reputation—it seems Sawyer has a magic touch. And while it’s no doubt a playground for the taste buds, it’s also a happy hour hot spot and high-spirited hang with a game zone featuring shuffleboard and foosball, and an expansive outdoor terrace slated to open this summer. “From Willis Tower workers and the throngs of people heading to Skydeck Chicago to theatergoers, commuters on their way out of the Loop and date-nighters looking to enjoy the bounty of our city,” Sawyer concludes, “Kindling offers an experience everyone can enjoy.” 202 S. Franklin St.
On the second floor, a game area with foosball, shuffleboard and plenty of seating for groups elevates Kindling beyond a buzzy new restaurant to one of the Loop’s most coveted hangs.
Photography by: INTERIOR PHOTOS BY PAUL GLINSKI/THE FIFTY/50 GROUP; FOOD PHOTOS BY CHRIS PETERS