The Hyde Park restaurant formerly known as Orly’s opened its doors again a week ago, renamed the Big Easy. Despite a series of unsuccessful reinventions since its debut in 1981, owner David Shopiro feels confident that the Big Easy will be a crowd pleaser. He looks forward to Hyde Park residents gathering over Cajun/Creole flavors and microbrews. Shopiro’s decision to make his new restaurant evocative of New Orleans flavor and culture was inspired by the late, local favorite Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop, a former staple of the Hyde Park restaurant scene that closed last year. Borrowing from Dixie Kitchen’s offerings in classic Cajun/Creole and Southern dishes, he decided that his new menu would aim to “elevate the food to a higher level.”
Hiring the right managing chef was crucial, so Shopiro chose Chicago-based Jennifer Gavin. Gavin was most recently seen in the fourth season of “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox. When interviewing potential candidates, Shopiro focused on finding someone “skilled in conversing with New Orleans food.” According to Shopiro, Gavin brings not only flavor but also visual appeal to her dishes. Next to the bar, a rich display of cake slices sitting on swirls of chocolate and fruit sauces makes this very apparent. Gavin and Shopiro also collaborate on finding ways to modify traditional Cajun/Creole recipes. For example, the Big Easy’s version of a beignet (fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar) has chocolate cappuccino sauce drizzled over it.
Shopiro’s confidence in the Big Easy comes in part from his new menu and chef, and in part from the renovated space. At the end of Orly’s previous life, Shopiro requested criticism and feedback from his patrons. Orly’s lack of “thematic cohesion” came up, as well as the fact that although they loved the food, Orly’s was not a place his catering customers would ever sit down in to eat. The Big Easy has multi-colored walls, jazz musician silhouettes, and black wooden railings.
The Big Easy is still a work in progress; the tap in the bar has not yet been installed and business hours will be based on how well Shopiro’s new project is received. Above all, Shopiro wants to make sure that the restaurant will continue to be receptive to its customers. He hopes that Hyde Park will approach the Big Easy with a fresh perspective.