How do you like them apples? Chicago’s first cider house set to open
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After a more than three-year wait, Chicago is finally about to welcome its first cider house.
No one is more excited about the opening of Eris Brewery and Cider House than co-founder Michelle Foik, who conceived of the combined cider house/brew pub back in 2013. She and business partner Katy Pizza first presented their plan to the public in late 2014.
“I’m actually giddy,” said Foik, who also added “tired, excited and overwhelmed” to her list of emotions.
“There’s a brewery opening up its doors every day. Cider is what made me excited, the excitement of being something new. My passion is restaurants and cider grabbed my heart,” said Foik, a veteran of Revolution Brewing, Goose Island’s Wrigleyville location and Virtue Cider.
Eris, 4240 W. Irving Park Road, will have six house ciders on tap along with six house beers, all created and crafted by head brewer Hayley Shine, who will likely soon be in the market for an assistant.
The food menu complements the brews, offering enough choices to keep things interesting but not so many as to feel unfocused. The lineup of gluten-free and vegetarian dishes is uncommonly deep and holds its own against more traditional pub fare like burgers and pretzel bites.
Living up to its name — Eris is a reference to the Greek goddess of chaos — the project encountered its share of obstacles while under development.
“They’re breaking all kinds of new ground here,” said Ald. John Arena (45th), who helped smooth things for Foik and Pizza where he could.
Because there’s a church nearby, an exclusion to state law had to be passed in Springfield in order to allow a liquor license. Then there’s the matter of cider and beer being brewed under the same roof, something no one had previously attempted. The beverages are treated separately by licensing officials, with cider falling under wine.
“Those two things [cider and beer] have had a wall between them,” Arena explained.
Foik and Pizza somehow found a way to navigate this uncharted licensing territory. Then came a 10-month wait for permits followed by two years of construction as they converted a former Masonic Temple into Eris.
The 100-year-old, 4½-story building, occupied most recently by the Korean Bethel Presbyterian Church, had great bones but required all new HVAC, electrical, plumbing, stairwells and more to meet current standards.
The interior was stripped down to the essential elements of exposed brick, steel and wood. Salvaged materials were repurposed, including the building’s radiators, which were restored and incorporated into railings.
“The building is insanely strong. You’ve got these gigantic metal beams, thick load-bearing walls and delicate details,” said Pizza.
“Is it awe-inspiring? Absolutely. It was, ‘Go big or go home.’ You can’t have lights from Menards,” she said. “Once you get past that, there’s a certain tranquility. I want people to be comfortable here, I want people to feel like home.”
Even with the opening, Eris remains a work in progress. Though the main dining area, a mezzanine, brew deck and lounge have largely been completed, a second-floor ballroom/event space and rooftop deck are still to come.
“Always constant chaos,” said Foik, and after all, that’s Eris.
Most breweries get their start when a group of home-brewing bros decide to take things to the next level.
Foik and Pizza, a project manager par excellence, are neither dudes nor lifelong drinking buddies nor brewers.
“I’ve never made beer at home,” confessed Foik, shooting down a common misconception.
But she does have sizable credibility in the hospitality industry, according to Pizza.
“I’ve been out with Michelle and it’s like traveling with the pope,” Pizza said.
The two happen to have a mutual acquaintance in Pizza’s husband, Nunzino, an investor in Revolution and executive vice president of Hop Head Farms. He connected his wife with Foik when Eris was just the seed of an idea.
Though a study in contrasts — Foik brings the energy, Pizza the attention to detail — the two found common ground in a shared approach to business, primarily a refusal to compromise on quality, Pizza said.
In early 2017, Shine joined the team, lured away from Rock Bottom Brewery.
Though the trio aren’t necessarily leaning into the “women in a man’s world” narrative — Shine, for one, would be happy to never answer “What’s it like to be a female brewer?” again — they’re not shying away from it either.
Pizza called the issue of gender “more of a chord” running through the Eris theme than its sole note.
“We didn’t let it stop us,” Foik said of gender barriers. “Katy’s got a daughter, and she’s so proud of her mom. We can inspire that mentality in a child . . . it can inspire the younger generation to do things they don’t think they can.”
The initial plan was to hire separate brewers for cider and beer, but Shine “can make alcohol out of everything,” Foik said.
Eris’ lengthy construction timeline gave the brewer a long runway to familiarize herself with cider, which she originally considered less complicated than beer.
“It seems simpler but it’s subtler,” Shine said. “The art of blending is not simple, so it’s more like wine making.”
Though she said she enjoyed the process of learning about cider, Shine also called it an “insane proposition” to develop six new ciders and six new beers on her own.
“There’s no time to think,” she said. “I have a very ambitious place I want to start from.”
Shine’s inaugural beers include both classic and hazy IPAs, a stout, a Belgian wheat and, on the quirkier side, a beet beer and a light ale fermented with apple juice.
But she’s proudest of her ciders, which Foik labels “modern,” in that they’re fermented using the juice of standard table apples rather than heirloom varieties. (Eris is not pressing its own juice on site.)
In addition to dry and semi-sweet versions, Shine concocted a blush cider made with cherries and a pair of dry-hopped ciders, including one from blueberries.
Shine is curious to see how customers react to the hopped ciders, particularly those who aren’t fans of hoppy IPA beers. Hops aren’t boiled when added to cider, which cuts down on the bitterness, she explained.
“I don’t think people know as much about cider,” Shine said. “There’s a lot to do on education.”
Jonathon Trubow, a veteran of Wishbone and Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro, is in charge of the kitchen at Eris.
Half of the menu items are gluten-free, vegan or both, a point of pride for Foik and Pizza, who has celiac disease.
“If you’re a vegetarian, why can’t you come to a brew pub?” Foik asked.
Prices range from $5 to $12 for appetizers and salads and up to $20 for the most expensive entrees, steak frites and salmon brulee. An early contender for most-likely-to-be-Instagrammed is the peanut butter pie, a cupcake-sized dessert of chocolate crumb crust topped with peanut butter mousse.
Though Trubow’s menu is a significant notch above familiar bar-and-grill territory, Pizza and Foik stressed that Eris is first and foremost intended as a neighborhood joint.
“We’re not special occasion. We’re going to have regulars,” Pizza said. “We will have something for everyone.”
Given the licensing and permitting issues, and the cost of renovating a 100-year-old building, could Eris have been built faster and cheaper from the ground up?
Probably, Foik said, but that was never an option.
“The minute I walked in this door, I knew it was going to be the building I was going to buy,” she said. “I never, ever had that feeling before.”
WRAP Architecture designed the space. Michael Jones and Cat Pham, partners in Mass Jones Studio, fabricated the decor and used the building itself as their muse.
“We allow whatever elements we find to move us. There’s a lot of imagination involved,” said Pham.
The building’s salvaged joists — carried out on a 90-degree day, Pham recalled — were repurposed as tables and benches, built by Jones and Pham. Old stove burners became light fixtures and rusted radiators were stripped of their peeling paint by hand, instead of sandblasted, to preserve as much detail as possible before being converted into railings.
“As we took off every layer of paint, the hues, the lines and the intricacy were revealed,” Pham said.
The two liken their work to storytelling and when asked to describe Eris’s story, Jones responded: “The Eris story, to some degree, is about a rebirth of old material brought to a purposeful new existence. These very old pieces come with a lot of their own character. You can’t get that when you buy something new.”
“They’ve endured so much and lasted so long already, we want it to stay alive for another 100 years,” added Pham.
The pair credited Foik, Pizza and Shine for giving them creative freedom to follow their inspiration.
“In every meeting, we would get to know Katy, Michelle and Hayley a little more. In the beginning, we needed to do a lot of drawings. Then, the questions stopped and it became, ‘Wow, what’s next?’,” said Pham.
Among Jones and Pham’s must-see flourishes is a detail patrons are likely to overlook. Images have been burnished into the patina of several of the steel-topped dining tables, from a Trojan horse to an apple to the faces of Foik, Pizza and Shine.
“We thought we were sitting down with furniture makers. They are artists,” Pizza said. “There’s craftsmanship everywhere. The heft and quality, that’s just the standard.”