Italian in Hyde Park

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Assistant to the Editor

Chef Matthias Merges will open his third restaurant, the widely-anticipated northern Italian-inspired A10, next Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 1462 E. 53rd St.

Named after the highway connecting northern Italy and southern France, A10 will have a menu that includes 35 dinner items, 21 lunch offerings and 18 brunch specialties. Lunch and dinner will be served Mondays through Saturdays, and only brunch on Sundays, from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“We always wanted to be here, and it was the right time,” said Merges, who was invited to set up shop by the U. of C. in early 2012.

A10 will employ almost 50 people and fit around 100 seats, including 18 seats at the bar. Merges is also seeking a permit next spring for a 50 seat patio along the restaurant’s north and east sides. “We love the exposure,” he said.

Alongside its varied fare — ranging from burgers to pizzas, made-from-scratch pastas and classic breakfast foods — A10’s menu will feature a beverage program, including wines and cocktails such as gin and tonic on tap.

“One thing about making [an] Americano, or anything with tonic in the glass, you never have the time for things to meld together, to become a little more [rich] and [full in body],” Merges said.

“We will seek that fine-dining atmosphere, but in a much more comfortable and inviting setting,” said head chef John Vermiglio. The 15-year veteran has served at Charlie Trotter’s Chicago with Merges, then the chef de cuisine. He is now the head chef at Merges’ Logan Square brunch restaurant, Billy Sunday.

“The level that I want to operate at, is the level that he operates at,” Vermiglio said, recalling a catered event where Merges criticized his decision to served cold milk with hot coffee. “It was something so simple, but [it] had such a huge, profound impact on me.”

“The man doesn’t miss a thing, everything from the guests when they sit down to the dishwashers when they leave at night,” Vermiglio added. “Every little detail is perfectly combed over.”

The U. of C. reached out to Merges about opening a restaurant in the neighborhood in early 2012, Merges said. The move was “part of broader efforts to bring more amenities to Hyde Park, according to university Director of Communications for Civic Engagement, Calmetta Coleman.

Merges already had personal connections to the university: His father attended its graduate school and his father-in-law, the college, before serving on the board of the Divnity School.

“We’ve been visiting the area and my in-laws have been down here and lived here for quite some time,” Merges said. “We always loved the historic quality of Hyde Park.”

Merges said his team scoured Hyde Park’s real estate, and “fell in love” with the restaurant’s corner space, which served as the inspiration for the its European brasserie concept.

Merges’ restaurant holdings already include Billy Sunday and Avondale Japanese grill Yusho. He also plans to bring a second location of Yusho to 53rd Street after A10 opens, although he says it is “undetermined” when. Yusho’s future site, at 1301 E. 53rd St., currently sits in a dry precinct. Merges has petitioned the designation.

But A10’s arrival may be a sign of things to come: Merge said he expects more culinary options to grace Hyde Park.

“There’s such a buzz in the [culinary] community about Hyde Park,” Merges said. “A lot of chefs that I know are already down and looking and trying to see exactly what’s going to happen.”

“People are watching to see what happens with us and how we do. But I think there’s such great opportunity here.”

j.bishku@hpherald.com