A nearly 50-year-old Eastern European bistro will close its doors in Avondale this fall to make way for a new American restaurant from a San Francisco native. Gurst, named for a simultaneous gust and burst of wind, will open before Christmas at 3661 N. Elston Avenue, according to new chef and owner Phillip Martinez. The space currently houses Little Bucharest Bistro, which will hold its last service October 31.
Martinez plans to infuse his minimalist style into Gurst’s menus and decor — he eschews elaborate plating in favor of simple dishes with restricted ingredients. The brunch menu will feature several tartines, including beet-cured lox (cucumber, fried capers, dill, yogurt, dark rye bread) and Hen of the Woods mushrooms (poached egg, crispy shallot). Brunch options will also include grilled octopus with fried eggs, black bean aioli, potatoes, and salsa verde, and oysters by the full or half-dozen.
The dinner menu highlights several dishes inspired by Little Bucharest Bistro, such as a braised short rib goulash (potato gnocchi, paprika tomato sauce, pearl onions, jus) and a modern take on borscht (red cabbage, beets, fennel, whole grain mustard). Diners can also anticipate dishes like deer tartare (tenderloin cut, beets, apple, cucumber, shallots, capers, cured egg yolk, herbs, toast), Madras curry fried chicken (hot pickles, house malt chips, dipping sauce), and uni with aerated strawberry, purslane, and charred citrus vinaigrette.
Gurst will include a full bar with wine, beer, and liquor, though a drink menu isn’t yet available. The sizable space will seat 80-100, Martinez said, including 10 bar seats. He plans to give the space a facelift, though there isn’t time for significant renovations, remove the Romanian-style decor, and replace windows to bring natural light into the dining room. Martinez will paint the facade white with blue trim, another nod to his minimalist inclinations, and knock out a wall so customers can get a better view of the kitchen and feel engaged in the cooking process.
Martinez moved from California to Chicago last October. He plans to hold a series of popups for groups of 30 before Gurst officially opens to introduce locals to his menu and approach. Would-be diners can follow the restaurant on social media for updates on popup dates and locations.
Branko Podrumedic, who goes by “Mr. Branko,” first opened Little Bucharest Bistro on Ashland and Wellington avenues in May of 1970. He relocated the restaurant to Avondale 10 years ago, and said he has watched the neighborhood develop into a restaurant hotspot. “The old-school European restaurants are fading out one by one,” Podrumedic said in an interview.
Citing prominent closures like Harwood Heights’ Old Warsaw Buffet and German stalwart Mirabell Restaurant, he said he felt it was time for him to retire. “Many of these young people, they don’t know where Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria are,” he said. “I just simply think that I’m getting older and it’s time to pass the trophy to younger generation.”
Stay tuned for more news on Gurst as the project progresses.