The name says it all at the newly opened Scratch Kitchen and Lounge, 7444 Madison St. in Forest Park—even the ketchup and mustard is made from scratch, in-house.
Although only sporting a preview menu before their grand opening in mid-February, Scratch has the potential to become a neighborhood favorite with its focus on locally sourced, house-made burgers and mac and cheese.
Owner and chef Patrick O'Brien has deep roots in the area, having grown up in River Forest. Although Scratch is his first foray into the restaurant business on his own, he's helped launch several popular local spots, including Avenue Ale House in Oak Park and Francesca's in Forest Park.
O'Brien has big plans for his new establishment, even if those plans call for keeping the menu small. The motto at Scratch Kitchen is focus on a few things and do them well.
"We're never going to do more than specialize in a few things," O'Brien said over a burger at Scratch recently. "We have a small kitchen and a small restaurant. Rather than have a really big menu, we want to do what we do perfectly every time."
"A few things done perfectly, served in a fun environment, with great service." - Scratch motto.
The set up at Scratch is pretty straightforward: comfortable booth seating lines the walls set up around small tables. A short bar leads to the back of the restaurant and faces the chef's cooking station for a front row seat of your food being prepared.
"We want to put an emphasis on customer interaction," O'Brien explained. "We want you to be able to strike up a conversation with the bartender and with the cooks. It adds a personal touch."
Burgers are made from grass-fed brisket and chuck ground in-house and cost $11. They range from the Scratch Burger; topped with blue cheese, truffled arugula, red onion and tomato, to the It's Greek to Me; made with house ground lamb and topped with feta, cucumber and tomatoes, spiked with mint and served on a potato bun.
Scratch also specializes in fries and mac and cheese—both of which come in ridiculously large portion sizes and are topped with everything from butter and garlic (fries) to slow roasted pork (mac).
While they take a lot of pride in their Scratch-specific creations, there's always a build-your-own option too, leaving the choice of any toppings available up to the customer.
I enjoyed my Scratch Burger—not too greasy, just enough pepper flavor from the arugula and a bit of blue cheese bite—but where this place stands out is their mac and cheese. Served in cast iron skillet in two sizes (massive or just ridiculous) it's extra creamy and full of flavor. Priced between $7 and $15, it's a great deal too, with more than enough to share at the table, or to take home for lunch the next day.
Scratch offers a range of canned beer for you to wash it down with. It's an impressive selection, even if the craft choices are a little lackluster at the moment. That'll change, O'Brien said, as they continue to add more. There should be plenty to choose from considering the canning trend in microbrews at the moment. The prices are great though, starting with a $1.50 Hamms to a Revolution Eugene Porter for $4.25. The most expensive beers on the list run about $8, but generally come in a 16-ounce sized can.
The idea is to keep the specials as a "living menu" that updates itself based on availability of seasonal produce and the quality of ingredients.
Following its grand opening, you'll be seeing more specials available as well, which will give Scratch the ability to change things up on the fly. Consider a giant, two-pound turkey leg dinner, seafood options, or lasagna one night that will change based on what O'Brien finds at the market each day. The idea is to keep the specials as a "living menu" that updates itself based on availability of seasonal produce and the quality of ingredients. You might see wild game one night and crab legs the next. That goes right along with Scratch's commitment to sourcing their ingredients locally as much as possible.
"In the summer that's going to be so easy," O'Brien said. "For example, I'm working with a great farm in DeKalb. We should be able to pick up everything within an hour's drive."
Overall, the place is definitely on the right track, and can only get better with a little time to expand their offerings and see what works.
Recommendations: Scratch Burger, Truffle Parm and Shrooms Mac and Cheese.
What to Try: Mediterranean Fries, Great Gams (Scratch's riff on chicken wings using drumsticks and served with a choice of two sauces—Asian or Carolina BBQ).
Where to Improve: Larger selection of craft beer, thicken up the burger—especially for those that prefer their meat medium. For $11, it needs to cover the bun.
Hours: Mon-Thurs from 4-12 p.m., and Fri-Sun from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. (currently)
Nightlife to come: In addition to including lunch service seven days a week in the near future, they'll also be open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and 3 a.m. on Saturdays, making this place an obvious choice for late night grub on the weekends.
Watch for: Live music and movie nights with a special menu that will compliment the entertainment.
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