Underground Food Collective's Jonny Hunter has been more busy than usual lately. His restaurant The Heights on Madison's Near West Side is set to open Tuesday, and he's also involved in a project coming to Chicago's Ukrainian Village.
The Heights at 11 N. Allen St., took Hunter and his partners two years of planning and about a year of construction.
"I love how it looks," Hunter said. "It turned out to be just a really clean, very beautiful space."
Hunter called the design "shockingly different" than how the restaurant looked during its "residencies" by Underground Food Collective and the El Grito food cart.
"We took everything down to the studs and put new walls in," he said. "It's very clean, white, lots of gold accents and light table tops, wood furniture, a very modern, very sleek look."
The Heights will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and can seat about 40, said Hunter, a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist for "Best Chef: Midwest." The collective's Forequarter restaurant was also nominated for "Best New Restaurant" in the U.S. in 2013.
The Heights is named for University Heights, the famous neighborhood where it's located. The area is home to many of Madison's most architecturally important residences, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gilmore House, and the Bradley House, the city's only building designed by Louis Sullivan.
Businesses in the neighborhood include Regent Market Co-op, Lombardino’s and the Blue Moon.
"We wanted to make sure that people recognize it as a neighborhood restaurant," Hunter said about the name. "I think we're going to fit in really well with the neighborhood and people who are going there."
The menu will be simple, with signature entrées like grilled white fish and a half roasted chicken. It will feature items that kids will eat, but adults will also enjoy, he said.
"The way I talk about it is that Forequarter is the restaurant that I opened after living in Europe and South America, and The Heights is the restaurant we're opening after we had kids."
Hunter co-founded Underground Food Collective, which also runs Underground Butcher. It had the well-regarded Underground Kitchen, which was lost to a fire in 2011.
"We want to have a lot of really fresh vegetables, bright herby flavors along with things like brown rice, whole grain," Hunter said about the food offerings at The Heights. "We're not going to be doing white bread."
For The Heights, Hunter is partnering with Underground Food Collective's Mel Trudeau, and the couple who own the building, Evan Gruzis and Nicole Rogers.
Rogers won't be working at The Heights much, but Gruzis will be overseeing the restaurant, "doing everything an owner does, from maintenance to cleaning," said Hunter, who's spent a lot of time on Allen Street as The Heights prepares to open, but won't be in its kitchen every day.
The restaurant's chef, Allie Christian, has worked for Underground Butcher and Underground Catering for about a year. Before that, she was a sous chef at Graze. "She's super talented. I'm really excited about her work on the line in the kitchen," Hunter said.
Meanwhile, Hunter is helping his friend and former Underground employee Erin Carlman Weber open Brothers and Sisters, a 1970s-themed bottle shop, eatery and market in Chicago at 2119 W. Chicago Ave. The project is under construction and scheduled to open in December.
Carlman Weber previously worked as private event director at Stephanie Izard's famed Girl and the Goat in Chicago. Hunter is a more limited partner. Their other partner is Derek Herbster, who has a background in coffee roasting.
Abigail Zielke, a former Underground employee who was the chef at the now-closed Mediterranean restaurant Mezze, will be the chef there. Brothers and Sisters will be using and selling Underground's cured meat, and Zielke knows the company and its food, Hunter said.
"Most of my work will be communicating with them about menu items and different products," Hunter said. "We will be supporting them from Madison."
Both The Heights and Brothers and Sisters will use coffee from Wisconsin's Ruby Coffee Roasters, owned by Hunter's friend Jared Linzmeier.