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Cindy Laskowski


Taste of the Town in Geneva: Craft Urban celebrates shared-plate experience

[Photos by Sandy Bressner –] [Partner Bernie Laskowski (from left) and Executive Chef Andrew Sikkelerus create changing seasonal menus at Craft Urban, located at 211 James St. in downtown Geneva.]

GENEVA – A partner behind Craft Urban, which opened its doors in Geneva last month, is Bernie Laskowski, who brings a high-profile Chicago restaurant resume to the local dining scene.

He honed his culinary skills in Europe and Thailand, and was associated with Everest, Marché, Four Seasons and Bin 36. He launched the Park Grill at Millennium Park, where he spent eight years as executive chef.

He now has crafted a much more intimate space in the former location of Nosh at 211 James St., where a muralist’s splashes of color on the whitewashed brick draw the eye to the building tucked just east of Third Street. Among the enterprises he partners in is Cinderella Paleo in Naperville, providing prepared foods and catering.

“Personal projects are what led me to Geneva,” Laskowski said. “[After] working in large corporate environments where you’re doing a thousand for lunch [with] 140 people in the kitchen, it’s nice to get back to the nuts and bolts of the food and beverage community. You really learn what a small business owner is all about.”

He said witnessing the blossoming of a fantastic culinary scene in the suburbs attracted his attention, and he was drawn to Geneva, which reminds him of Sonoma, Calif.

I love everything about this town.– Laskowski

Craft Urban is about hyper-local sources of ingredients for seasonal food and drinks procured ideally within an eight-hour drive. It’s meant to be an American shared-plate experience.

“We want to find the most creative individual that’s producing [a] product,” Laskowski said. “We present it in a simple way. We dice up shrimp, mix it with avocado and tomato and toss with a local hot sauce and serve in a beautiful little cocktail glass.”

[Skirt steak tacos with corn salsa, avocado and queso fresco is one of the shared dishes at Craft Urban.]

Among popular dishes are tempura cheese curds, bruschetta and a fondue with a crisp crunch on top and molten cheese in the center served with apples and toast points.

Different smoked salmon spreads are served with pumpernickel and fresh horseradish. There’s a roast squash hummus, as well as a recipe with avocado, pomegranate seeds, Brussels sprouts and chili toast.

“My other favorite is whipped ricotta on toasted artisan bread with fig … and prosciutto from Iowa,” he said.

Food is meant to be social and shared. – Laskowski

Entrees are featured, such as striped bass, beef short ribs and brick-roasted chicken. The menu also offers the Craft Urban burger, pumpkin soup and sandwiches.

“If you’re celebrating an anniversary, the menu is designed for that, [too],” he said.

[Craft cocktails include The Dude Abides (clockwise from left), Mexican Sunset and an Old Fashioned.]

Vegetables and protein receive a lighter natural touch without a lot of heavy cream and flour, he said.

He curated the drink menu with an eye to not duplicating what other bars already offer in town.

“You want to be able to support all the other businesses in the area,” Laskowski said, noting there are eight craft beers on tap that one won’t find elsewhere, along with 12 to 15 by the can and bottle, all from the Midwest area.

“With the cocktails, we have 10 craft cocktails that change with the seasons, the way the menu changes,” he said.

[The Craft Urban burger is popular at the new restaurant.]

About 12 wines are offered by the glass, and a bottle collection is highlighted.

“A flavor profile I’m very fond of [is] very fruit forward, luscious and juicy,” Laskowski said. “I love California wines [and selections from] Washington, Oregon, Chile, Spain, France and Italy.

He said they avoided picking the most expensive wines.

We’re a neighborhood restaurant, and we respect that. – Laskowski

He said he wanted Craft Urban to be a true chef-driven establishment, where the executive chef is also responsible for service. He added that the restaurant is small enough to have an open kitchen behind the bar from which the chef can oversee the dining room.

[Midwestern craft beers are on tap at Craft Urban in downtown Geneva.]

The executive chef is Andrew Sikkelerus, long associated with Laskowski, whose business partner in the venture is Francisco Chavez.

With cooking, there’s a language of flavor and an understanding of how the food should create the feeling [for] guests … at the table – Laskowski

Because he enjoys a fresh cup of coffee, Craft Urban brings a French press to the table offering specially sourced coffee and tea. On the dessert menu is a family recipe for pound cake with tempting embellishments.

Craft Urban is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday.

The regular menu ends at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, but Craft Urban then offers something unusual – late-night ramens.

“It’s our interpretation of a classical Japanese dish, but done in the Craft Urban style,” Laskowski said. “This past week … we created a pork broth … with shredded cabbage, smoked pork shoulder, fried chicken thighs done in a Japanese style [with] a soft-boiled egg and a spicy Tabasco sauce.”

A wall-sized portrait of a woman’s face is the focal point in the dining room. Laskowski said they did a massive makeover of the space and added sound-dampening components.

To learn more, visit or call 331-248-8161.

Chicago Magazine Website Screen Shot of Page Featuring Craft Urban's owner Bernie Laskowski

Wondering what Bernie Laskowski did following his 2011 departure from the Park Grill kitchen? “I opened a bunch of little neighborhood bars in the south suburbs. Then I sold them all,” says the chef. He also launched a prepared meal company. Next on the agenda: Craft Urban Kitchen (211 James St., Geneva), a lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch eatery slated to open August 1.

It’s an eclectic community, It reminds me of being downtown Healdsburg in Sonoma. – Laskowski

The vision came to Laskowski as he drove around Geneva’s artsy downtown area delivering food for his meal company. The area charmed him so thoroughly that he wanted in on its restaurant scene. “It’s an eclectic community,” Laskowski says. “It reminds me of being downtown Healdsburg in Sonoma.”

On the menu: veggie-based appetizers such as smoked beets with pickled radishes, puffed quinoa, and fermented yogurt; six entrées, including handmade pasta and a burger made from a mixture of Slagel Farm beef and pork, topped with housemade pickles and tomato compote; and for dessert, pound cake with sweet yogurt and fresh berries—a recipe Laskowski and his mother-in-law have spent the past few years perfecting.

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