Hyde Park’s Virtue named one of nation’s top new restaurants: ‘Incredibly humbling’

Chef Erick Williams thankful for honor from Eater, which called Virtue “a thoroughly Chicago restaurant with a multicultural approach to Southern cuisine.”

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Virtue is located at 1462 E 53rd St. in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. It was recently named one of the top 16 new restaurants in the country.

Virtue Restaurant/Provided

When chef Erick Williams opened Virtue in Hyde Park last fall, his number one priority was treating diners well and making them feel comfortable.

But while the restaurant has thrived by attracting customers from the neighborhood, it has also made outsiders feel good, too. That includes the folks at Eater, which recently named Virtue one of the top new restaurants in the country.

Despite Chicago’s reputation for trend-setting restaurants, Williams’ eatery was the only one of the 16 on the list located in Chicago.

The national food website said Virtue is “a thoroughly Chicago restaurant with a multicultural approach to Southern cuisine.”

Williams calls the distinction “incredibly humbling,” and the gratitude he feels in the wake of the honor reflects the very idea that has been central to the establishment since its opening.

“Gratitude plays a role in every decision that’s made, down to how we handle, process and execute food on a day-to-day basis. We want to show our thanks to the people who have farmed the land, have negotiated on our behalf, who have joined our team, and who have invested their time to come to Virtue and enjoy a meal,” Williams said.

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Chef Erick Williams of Virtue

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

One of the communities to which Williams is most grateful is Hyde Park. As an African American chef and proprietor, Williams hopes that by competing with restaurants across the city and staying relevant, he can be impactful to Chicago’s Southside residents and give them a business to be proud of.

“The Hyde Park community gives us more support than we could have ever imagined,” he said, “and we’re very focused on making sure that our space feels inclusive and that it highlights the diversity that Hyde Park has represented for many years.”

Indeed, Eater said that “there’s a welcoming energy inside the dining room, with locals celebrating the arrival of a top-notch restaurant, one that represents them. And at the end of the day, these are the customers who make Hyde Park one of Chicago’s quirkiest neighborhoods, and Virtue one of the country’s best new restaurants.”

The menu offers Southern dishes, but with modern and Chicago-influenced twists, such as incorporating giardiniera, often found on Italian beef sandwiches, on fine dishes.

When asked if a particular menu item stands out, Williams declines to pinpoint one. He constantly thinks about the menu as a whole, and how he can serve up food that everyone will love.

“As a chef, I’m always eager to create the next craveable bite, so I don’t think about one particular dish, but rather the entire menu and how’s there’s something for everyone.”

In addition to the dining experience, Williams wants to inspire diners to spread kindness.

“The world is craving kindness, and our responsibility to humanity is to provide it to each person that we encounter on a daily basis whether it be in our space, or whether it be in our momentary interactions,” he said. “That’s what Virtue stands for.”

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