The Week Magazine's Food & Drink Section May 25,2018's Issue

Craft Urban Geneva, Ill.

“Urban” might be the last word any Chicagoan would associate with the town of Geneva, but the owner of Craft Urban is quite serious about his vision, said Phil Vettel in the Chicago Tribune. Bernie Laskowski was a notable Chicago chef before his push into the suburbs, and in Geneva, a bedroom community 45 miles from the Loop, he was determined to create a city vibe by combining a handsome bare brick dining room with a compact, upscale menu. How compact? You’ll find no appetizers here. Instead chef Andrew Sikkelerus offers a choice between bar snacks like tempura-fried cheese curds or various “breads and spreads.” Fish entrées are well sourced, and headlined by Rushing Waters rainbow trout in a lemon-caper sauce. The porchetta, served on a bed of cannellini, isa star among the meaty options, and desserts include such “classic indulgences” as a tall apple pie and excellent chocolate mousse. One truly urban touch: After 10 on Friday and Saturday nights, the kitchen spoons out ramen, and canned beers are half price. 211 James St., (331) 248-8161

WGN News Website Screen Shot of Page Featuring Craft Urban

Craft Urban located in Geneva, IL, 211 James Street

Brunch begins on March 24t

Our version of Chilaquiles:

Tostadas soaked briefly in salsa guajillo, layered with chorizo, queso fresco and topped with a sunny side egg, lime crema and a salad of cilantro, pickled onion, avocado and radish.

To start we need to make salsa, the most important part.

This simple salsa is made with guajillo chile, a mild dried chile with a complex fruity flavor. It is one of the most popular chiles in Mexico for making salsa.  If you don’t like your salsa too hot this is a good one for you. It is full of flavor but with less burn. This is a versatile salsa that goes well with many dishes.

Equipment Needed

  • Cutting board
  • Sauce pan
  • Blender
  • Strainer
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Spoon

Guajillo Chile Salsa Recipe:
prep 15 mins
cook 50 mins
total 1 hour, 5 mins
yield 1 quart


  • 16 guajillo chiles
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • Salt to taste


  • Remove the stems, seeds, and veins from the chiles. Discard.
  • Peel the cloves of garlic.
  • Chop the cilantro. You can use the stems.
  • Put all the ingredients in a saucepan.
  • Add just enough water to cover the ingredients, about 4 cups.
  • Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 1 minute then turn off the heat.
  • Allow the ingredients to soak for 15 minutes. The dried chiles will reconstitute in this time.
  • Pour all of the ingredients including the soaking water into the blender.  Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add a little water if needed to blend.
  • Strain the mixture back into a bowl. Discard the paste that remains in the strainer.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in your saucepan over medium heat then add the strained salsa.
  • Turn the heat to low.
  • Simmer the salsa for 30 minutes until it thickens. The salsa will darken in color during this time.

To assemble:

  • ¼ cup queso fresco crumbled
  • ¼ cup cooked chorizo
  • ¼ cup sour cream whipped with juice of ½ lime
  • ¼ cup picked cilantro leaves
  • ¼ cup julienne red onion, marinated with salt sugar and lime juice
  • 2 tortillas fried crisp
  • 1 whole farm egg, cooked sunny side up
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • 1 ea radish, sliced thinly

Spoon the sauce onto plate with a bit of chorizo and queso fresco, add tostada and drench in salsa, repeat process with second tostada.  Top with the last of the chorizo, then the egg.  Toss cilantro with marinated onions, radish and avocado, place on top of egg.  Drizzle with lime cream for garnish.

Eater Chicago Web Page Screen Shot of Review Article Heading

Although it’s all the way out in Geneva, Craft Urban “would feel at home in any city neighborhood” according to Phil Vettel. There’s a selection of toasts to start, including a “very nice combination” of ricotta, grape mostarda, and prosciutto. Seafood also excels — rainbow trout in a lemon-caper sauce is “one of the nicest dishes on the menu” — while the meaty porchetta is a “classy” pork and beans that serves as “perfect winter-weather fare.” Desserts are “classic indulgences” and the best of the bunch is the chocolate mousse with toasted marshmallow, graham-cracker crumble, and sea salt. [Tribune]

Chicago Tribune Website Screen Shot of Page Featuring Craft Urban

  • Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.57.10 AM

    The porchetta is a classy pork and beans, placing rolled pork shoulder on a bed of slow-cooked cannellini beans with tomatoes, carrots and onions.

  • Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.57.21 AM

    Rainbow trout is served in a classic lemon-caper sauce.

  • Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.56.44 AM

    Gourmet toasts include one topped with ricotta, grape mostarda and La Quercia prosciutto.

  • Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.56.57 AM

    Bar snacks include fried cheese curds.

  • Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.57.31 AM

    Craft Urban owner Bernie Laskowski, left, and chef Andrew Sikkelerus, saw the need for innovative restaurants in Geneva.

  • Screen-Shot-2018-01-09-at-11.57.50-AM

    A colorful mural of Ava Grey by Caesar Perez takes up one wall of the dining room.

  • Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.58.02 AM

    A Wonder Woman icon signals which is the women’s restroom.

  • Screen-Shot-2018-01-09-at-11.58.15-AM

    Super heroes decorate the women’s restroom door at Craft Urban.

  • Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.58.35 AM

    All kinds of super heroes decorate a men’s restroom door at Craft Urban restaurant.

Craft Urban restaurant brings some of the city to suburban Geneva, with a compact menu of bar snacks, seafood, great porchetta and classic indulgent desserts. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)

Phil Vettel Contact Reporter
Chicago Tribune

Craft Urban sounds like a whimsical name for a restaurant 44 miles west of Chicago, but owner Bernie Laskowski is quite serious about the name and its location.

“I wanted an urban feel, a city vibe,” he said. “I wanted to bring something unique to Geneva.”

Laskowski certainly understands city restaurants. He began his career at Everest and later put in time at Marche and mk. He was chef for the innovative Bin 36 in its original location and later opened Park Grill, the below-The-Bean restaurant in Millennium Park.

He’s no suburbanite-come-lately, having moved out west more than 15 years ago. And after leaving Park Grill in 2011, he opened a series of “shot-and-beer joints” in the south suburbs (which he later sold), and he and his wife, Cindy, created Cinderella Paleo, an upscale meal-service company based in Naperville.

“As time progressed,” he said, “I saw more and more demand for good, quality ingredients and innovative restaurants. Not as avant-garde as Alinea, but still.”

The economics appealed to Laskowski as well.

“When I looked at the cost structure, it only made sense,” he said. “The rents, relative to check averages, are very affordable.”

Thus was born Craft Urban, which opened in downtown Geneva in mid-November. With its brick walls, stylish lighting (a couple of arty chandeliers, horizontally mounted single-bulb lights), bare-wood tables and hammered-leather chairs, the restaurant would feel at home in any city neighborhood. The front lounge offers gleaming white subway tiles and matching tufted-leather bar seats; most of the space is given to the dining room, which has carpeting (that cuts down on ambient noise, though I wouldn’t call the place quiet), and a colorful mural by Caesar Perez of Ava Grey takes up the entire west wall. Another artist, Josh Shultz, designed the comic-book decoupaged restroom walls.

The compact menu, managed adroitly by executive chef Andrew Sikkelerus, skips appetizers in favor of bar snacks and a section of “breads and spreads.” Among the former are tempura-fried cheese curds, along with bread-and-butter pickles and a mildly spiced red-pepper dip; and a Gruyere-based, gratineed fondue with crisp apple slices and brioche toast. The latter category embraces the gourmet-toast fad without using the term; there is indeed an avocado version (with sunflower and pomegranate seeds), but also a “schmear” that combines chicken-liver mousse and pork rillettes with a nice spike of mustard, a creamed-spinach and mushroom combo with aged Parmesan, and a very nice combination of ricotta, grape mostarda and La Quercia prosciutto.

Sikkelerus offers a nice assortment of seafood options, bringing in wild striped bass, Rushing Waters rainbow trout, king salmon (recently added, enhanced with sesame and horseradish) and farm-raised Texas shrimp. The shrimp are the stars of the shrimp and grits, very prettily presented, and the rainbow trout, in a classic lemon-caper sauce, is one of the nicest dishes on the menu.

The star of the meaty options is the porchetta, a dish created by Laskowski’s son, Sebastian. It’s basically a classy pork and beans, placing rolled pork shoulder on a bed of slow-cooked cannellini beans with tomatoes, carrots and onions, and it’s perfect winter-weather fare. Brick-roasted chicken arrives with an appealingly crisp crust and a pile of chewy fregola, a pasta shaped like little beads.

Beef lovers can choose between the short ribs, sitting above sweet corn and topped with fried kale, and butcher’s beef, which consists of teres major (tender shoulder cut) sourced from Slagel Farms, arranged in wide medallions over potatoes and root vegetables.

Desserts are classic indulgences. Best of the bunch is the chocolate mousse, a sort of reconsidered s’more topped with toasted marshmallow, graham-cracker crumble and sea salt. Mom’s Pound Cake, which comes from Laskowski’s mother-in-law, is thick, toasted and smothered in berries and sweet yogurt cream. Tall apple pie, and the even taller hot-fudge sundae, are exactly how you’d want these desserts to be.

Friendly and unaffected service is a strength.

Beverage options include close to a dozen cocktails, mostly classics (such as a well-made Old-Fashioned) and one or two clever signatures, including a tasty, boozy eggnog that I imagine won’t remain on the list very long. Wines by the glass run $9 to $12; half the wines on the 24-bottle list are less than $75.

Craft Urban has a late-night ramen offering, beginning at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, augmented by half-price canned beers. Though open to all, the late-night menu functions as de facto industry nights. Another advantage to suburban dining (besides proximity and free parking) is that the wee hours arrive early.

Twitter @philvettel

211 James St., Geneva


Tribune rating: Two stars

Open: Lunch and dinner daily

Prices: Main courses $19-$34

Noise: Conversation-friendly.

Ratings key: Four stars, outstanding; three stars, excellent; two stars, very good; one star, good; no stars, unsatisfactory. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.


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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