HEAVEN UNDER THE EL

Byline: Lisa Bertagnoli

The name comes from D’s Rushmore Inn, an old meatpackers’ hangout that once occupied the same corner. D’s served a minimal menu of soup and sandwiches; its female customers were largely prostitutes.
While the minimalism remains, the restaurant called Rushmore that has taken D’s place couldn’t be further apart in mood or menu (or clientele, for that matter). Seating only 60, a trait rare in this age of cavernous restaurants, the serene, sage-green room manages to capture the Chicago of both past and present.
Heavy wood chairs recall the Prairie style of architecture and design, while nautical-looking sconces, the only decorations on the wall, serve as a reminder of the lake lying 1 1/2 miles to the east. Copper trim on a wall divider and copper-colored fabric on the banquettes hint at the city’s industrial history, while storefront-style windows let in the sights and sounds of modern-day Chicago: the Lake Street El tracks. The tracks provide a free show for patrons dining after dark: Sparks flying from the rails look a bit like fireworks, said Rodney Alex, one of Rushmore’s three owners.
The real fireworks, though, are reserved for the food. Chef and owner Michael Dean Hazen, whose culinary resume includes a stint at La Caravelle in New York, has created a menu of what he calls “fine American food.” Foie gras and mac-and-cheese share space on the appetizer menu; lobster pot pie and braised short ribs coexist peacefully among the entrees. A daily blue plate special harkens back to diners of yore — if those diners had served up spiced pot roast with chickpea dumplings.
Both the restaurant’s name and its menu concept required some editing before Rushmore’s doors opened Nov. 8. Alex wanted to bill the fare as “sexy comfort food,” a notion Hazen dismissed. “You can’t build a business on that,” he said.
Second, Alex and the restaurant’s third partner, Franco Gianni, had another name in mind. After their interview with Hazen, the two posed a question: What would it take for the hot, young chef to head up the kitchen at a restaurant called Gravy?
The answer came back in a hurry: “Change the name.”
Rushmore is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. It’s located at 1023 West Lake Street; call 312-421-8845 for reservations.